07 February 2019

Business pre-mortem: considering the worst outcome

‘A pre-mortem in a business setting comes at the beginning of a project rather than the end, so that the project can be improved rather than autopsied.’

Gary Klein, Research Scientist, in Harvard Business Review

With a few gloomy months behind us and predictions of financial turmoil ahead, the business environment has become increasingly uncertain. Whether or not the doomsayers are correct, it’s worth putting down the rose tinted glasses when it comes to business planning.

Business owners are often too focussed on success to think about failure, but a company pre-mortem makes them do just that. In a pre-mortem, a team is told of the catastrophic failure of their business or project and works backwards to look at the problems and pitfalls that led to its imaginary demise.

Instead of looking at what might go wrong with a project, a pre-mortem team asks ‘what did go wrong?’ The team writes down every single reason they can think of for the failure, from technological blackouts to excessive regulations to staffing issues. It allows a team to look at the detailed causes of one failure rather than multiple causes of multiple outcomes, avoiding becoming lost in a rabbit warren of what-ifs.

Risk and contingency planning is an obvious thing to do in business, but the pre-mortem has its own distinct benefits for a company. It allows a safe environment for dissenters to raise issues they may otherwise not feel able to raise, whether they are introverts or are just worried about looking disloyal. It also gives a caution to members of the team who may be over-invested in its benefits.

Bennett Verby CEO, Bernard Verby, said:

“Openness to the idea of the failure of a business can create a strong management mind-set, where problems are recognised early and can be dealt with by knowledgeable teams.”

Confronting a project’s demise is not something management teams usually relish, but the ‘prospective hindsight’ of a pre-mortem can offer resilience rather than pessimism.

It’s often said that hindsight is a wonderful thing. But prospective hindsight is even better. For more information on business planning, You should always seek advice about your specific requirements before you act. Speak to one of our experts on 0161 476 9000 or contact us here.