Startups: How to Do a Pre-Mortem (and Prevent a Post-Mortem)
Doctors conduct postmortems to figure why people died. They do this to solve a crime, prevent the death of others, and satisfy curiosity. However, once somebody dies, it’s too late to help him.
Entrepreneurs and their investors also often analyze why a product, service, or company died—especially if it’s someone else’s company. And, as in the case of dead people, a postmortem is too late to do much good for a defunct product, service, or company. Enter the concept of premortems, coined by Gary Klein, chief scientist of Klein Associates, and author of Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions.
His idea is to get your team together and pretend that your product has failed. That’s right: failed, cratered, imploded, or “went Aloha Oe,” as we say in Hawaii. You ask the team to come up with all the reasons why the failure occurred. Then each member has to state one reason until every reason is on a list. The next step is to figure out ways to prevent every reason from occurring.
You can’t ask the team to report the issues and challenges because regular meetings are governed by mind games and unwritten rules—for example, not embarrassing your friends, not looking like a poor team player by criticizing others, and not making enemies. You can’t tell me that everyone is completely open and honest in these gatherings.
By contrast, people are not laying blame on one another and on other groups in a premortem (a properly conducted one, anyway). Everyone is compiling a list of all the hypothetical factors that may come into play. And “all” means “all,” because it would be shame if someone had thought of an issue but then dismissed it as not important enough to mention.
This post is a tiny part of Guy Kawasaki’s latest book, The Art of the Start 2.0. Read it and reap…
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