Begin your Project with Failure

A primary role of change leaders is to blow the whistle early when a program is at risk of failure (see last week’s article). To prevent failures, wise leaders run a pre-mortem to minimize risk.

You are likely familiar with the term post-mortem: An investigation of the cause of death. While it helps us learn more about what happened, it can’t prevent. It’s too late.

Pre-mortems analyze the cause of death before it happens. One of my clients uses this extensively to help salespeople prepare for customer calls. The concept is simple: Assume that you lost the deal. How could that have happened?

  • Who are the players that could have influenced the process? What are their interests?
  • What are the organizational priorities (strategy) and could this have pulled the engagement in a different direction?
  • What was happening inside and outside the organization that disrupted progress?
  • How did our assumptions lead us in the wrong direction?

These same questions can help you prepare for the challenge of leading change. What are the risks that could derail the project? Don’t be satisfied with usual suspects of budget and resource constraints. Dig deeper. Look broadly for potential disruptors and landmines that could push a project toward failure.

Identification of reasonable risks allows for mitigation. It helps us tune our radar so we are not surprised when challenges come. We are ready to respond. Run a pre-mortem or you may be faced with a post-mortem.

Thoughtfully yours, 
Jeff Skipper

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