Do a Pre-Mortem in your Business

Abraham Lincoln himself said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” He knew the importance of essential planning and preparation in a project before it started in earnest.

Performing a premortem is the business equivalent of Lincoln’s axe sharpening and it’s absolutely essential if you want to succeed.

Premortem Essentials

The premortem is a fictional exercise. You can think of it as a form of teambuilding roleplaying where, going into a project you and your team consider as many worst-case scenarios as possible.

The idea is to imagine all the ways your project can fail so you eliminate them upfront and have planned solutions to any unlikely – but possible – issues before they happen.

From the most simple project to the most complex task, project management is one of the most important aspects of the premortem process.

It mitigates project failure and allows you to engage in risk assessment. You can then move forward in a way that lets you be completely transparent with your organization.

How to do a Premortem

  1. Prepare

First, you should ensure you have buy-in from all members of the team. Organize a room for you all to use, and create a shared document all can access. This can be a shared electronic page or a physical piece of paper that is updated as the scenarios unfold.

  1. Intro the Meeting

Give your team all the details about the project. Tell them that they should think about all the potential problems that could arise that would cause the project to fail as well as identify what the easy wins will be.

  1. List Concerns

Then, you should let members of the team write these concerns down over about 10 minutes. This will help them bring them up later and focus their mind on the task.

  1. Allow the Team to Speak

Let the team explain their concerns one by one. Try to group the same concerns together when you write them down or put them in a shared document. This allows you to think of shared solutions later.

You may need to do steps three and four several times to identify all the ways the project could be a failure.


Your team should now be able to identify the priority problems. Let every team member have a limited number of votes (1-3) and vote for each concern.


Empower each member of the team to mention what they voted for and bring up their concerns. Then ask if anyone wants to change their votes. You may find that some votes change based on discussion.

Review Actions

Plan direct action to solve problems your team has identified. Assign these actions to specific people and their teams so they can develop the solutions and empower their teams to solve them if possible.

You might need more than one premortem solution to hash out everything in your project. But once the team has finished the premortem, the biggest concerns will be no longer on the table, greatly increasing your likelihood of success.

Another benefit is that conducting the premortem might lead you to pass on the project altogether and prevent a major monetary loss and management headache.

Where Can You Learn More?

Now that you understand how to do a premortem, you can start one of your own.

Want to explore further? Questions? Get in touch and let’s set up a time to talk. Mark R. Steinke   1.610.768.7774  Email Me