Use Pre-Mortems To Prepare For Future Unknown Risks

We’ve all heard of a post-mortem. In business, this means looking back at a problem that has occurred and thinking of how it could have been avoided. This management style asks the question “what happened?” A pre-mortem, however, is different: instead, it asks the question “what could happen?” 

Here, we’ll discuss the difference between these two approaches, and tell you why (and how) a pre-mortem is best for mitigating future risk.

Pre-mortem vs. Post-mortem

The post-mortem approach is used after the project by managers who want to ask themselves and their teams how they could do better next time. 

In contrast, the pre-mortem approach goes about putting yourself in the shoes of a post-mortem approach before the project has even started. 

Imagine the project has failed and work backwards to find out what could possibly go wrong. This way, you can come up with strategies and plans to avoid any risks. In addition, it will help to avoid groupthink by creating a positive debate around possible threats.


Using Pre-Mortems To Mitigate Future Risk

Conducting a pre-mortem can help you with the three Ps: prediction, preparation, and planning. 

There are three simple steps to take to go about creating problem-solving techniques for possible problems. By following these, you’ll be able to mitigate future risk or even avoid it completely.


1. Create a list of predictions

No problem is too big or too small to go on this list. Work together with your team to create an exhaustive list of every single thing that could go wrong. 

During this step, you’ll come up with problems that are likely to happen, problems that are almost entirely improbable, and problems you have no control over. 

Everything goes on this list so that you can prepare just in case something happens, even if it is highly unlikely.


2. Narrow the list down to the top 10 problems

The top ten problems will hone in on the problems you’ve predicted that are actually critical to the project. What is likely? What has the possibility of really throwing a spanner in the works? Weed out things that are unlikely and that you have absolutely no control over.

With your top predictions in place, you can move on to the next and final step.


3. Create solutions: prepare and plan

Here’s where problem-solving techniques come into play. Take your top 10 problems, and create a way to fix each and every one of them. Don’t only say what you would do, however. Plan it. Create backup plans or solutions. Assign these plans and solutions to team members.

Remember this: preparation and planning are key in the pre-mortem approach.


Final Thoughts

So, how can management make sure that these steps are adhered to properly? One great tip is to adopt the pre-mortem approach into the inner workings of your organisation and document the three steps you’ve carried out. 

Keep this documentation in a central place that all stakeholders have access to. This ensures that everyone can carry out the necessary plan should things go wrong so that your organisation is better prepared for future risk.

If your organisation is looking for a tool to involve all employees in pre-mortems, decision-making and debate topics, have a look at Falcony | Observe. It enables your staff to participate in creating clarity on non-conformities, prevent and decrease the amount of friction in cross-team communications and gather actionable data while doing these.


We are building the world's first operational involvement platform. Our mission is to make the process of finding, sharing, fixing and learning from issues and observations as easy as thinking about them and as rewarding as being remembered for them.‍

By doing this, we are making work more meaningful for all parties involved.

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