If only you could snag TARDIS to help you see whether your project will be a success. In lieu of that, doing a premortem is your best bet. During premortem, you’ll brainstorm and visualize the risks and opportunities for your project and nail down a plan to navigate away or toward them. Use this premortem template to structure your meeting, document notes and decisions, and lead your team in a productive and proactive brainstorming session.
How to use the premortem template
Step 1. Assign some pre-work
Plan to spend 60 to 90 minutes on the premortem. That’s not a lot. Make the most of the time by assigning some homework beforehand so everyone shows up prepared to have a productive discussion. The Pre-work section of the template includes some thought-provoking questions you can ask your team to consider before you meet. Then at the meeting, talk through all your answers to kick off the meeting with open minds ready to deliver fresh ideas.
Step 2. Host your meeting and share an overview
The bulk of the template maps out a rough agenda (from the brainstorming sessions to the planning steps) that you can use to structure your premortem meeting. Start by providing a quick overview of the project that you’re planning for and the importance of this premortem session. In the Project overview section of the template, there’s also space to include a link directly to your team’s project poster for additional context. Setting the stage this way ensures that everybody is in alignment from the start, which means you’ll have an even better discussion.
Step 3. Start brainstorming
A good chunk of your premortem meeting is going to be dedicated to brainstorming potential risks and opportunities. You’ll split your team into two groups. One will take a “glass half full” approach to think through the ways your project could succeed, and the other group will take a “glass half empty” approach to think about ways your project could fail. Each group will use the table under the Brainstorm section of the template to list the team members they’re working with, jot down potential wins or pitfalls (depending on which perspective they’re assigned to), and group similar ideas into themes.
Step 4. Identify your priorities
In 20-ish minutes of brainstorming, each group will generate a lot of ideas. Now, it’s time to bring your whole team back together to cross-examine each other. Have one spokesperson from each group summarize the topics and themes that emerged. Make it clear that this should spark an open discussion. Team members should ask clarifying questions and even challenge certain ideas or assumptions. After everything is out on the table, team members get five minutes to vote on their top three potential failures and their top three potential successes. They can easily cast their votes by copying the green check mark from the template and pasting it next to their selected themes in the Brainstorm table.
Step 5. Make a plan to avoid landmines
When everyone is finished voting, you’ll have your top-voted risks and opportunities. But, a premortem isn’t about reaction – it’s about prevention. What steps will you take to guarantee the successes and avoid the hazards? Use the Make a plan section of the template to establish action items, assign team members (make sure to @mention them), and assign due dates. Hashing out these next steps will transform your premortem from hypothetical to actionable.
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