How we got ahead of the game with a pre-mortem workshop

Matt Jarvis
Mission Beyond


Mistakes, unexpected hurdles, running out of time or budget are just some of the challenges we are likely to face when trying to develop a brand new product. Most of the time these have a small impact but use up valuable team effort. Worst case, they can derail the project and have a larger impact. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing” is normally the echoed response when someone offers a solution after the issue has already occurred, but what if as a team you could preempt what could go wrong in the project before it’s happened and work out a solution in the event that it does?

That’s where the pre-mortem workshops come in, a series of activities to highlight potential issues the team foresee in the project, how to stop them from occurring or how to deal with them if they happen.

To run this session you will need an hour — keep the group to no more than 6 and grab yourself some pens and sticky notes (or if you’re still remote, a similar tool to Miro). Split the session into three sections: Brainstorm RAIDS, Prioritise, and Actions.

1 — Brainstorm RAIDs


To start off I prepared a board that splits into three sections, 4 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months. This helps everyone focus their attention on specific times which eventually helps with prioritising. The group is given a time limit of 5 mins on each time frame to list out as many Risks, Assumptions, Issues, and Dependencies that they can foresee in the project. We discussed each person’s sticky notes, if there was a duplicate they get grouped together. The output is a colourful spread of sticky notes covering all the RAIDs. The stickies are grouped and themed before moving on to the next exercise.

Some examples of what we came up with for Talent Compass are:

  • Lack of users for testing
  • Poor skill matching — skills not useful for the user
  • Tech limits scaling
  • Funding is pulled
  • Fail to Engage with the target audience

2 — Prioritise

6x6 grid priority board

We now have some key themes; it’s time to prioritise them so we know what to tackle first. This is done by placing the themes on a 6x6 grid, where the X axis is high impact to low impact the Y-axis unlikely to occur to likely to occur. As a group, we map out where we think they will lie to give us our priority view. Any sticky notes that sit in the top right quadrants will be our priority and any towards the bottom left will be less important. Before moving on to the next section it’s a good time to check in to make sure everyone is happy with the placement of the stickies.

3 — Actions

We now have an agreed board that clearly shows what to tackle first, if there are any stickies that sit outside of the top four quadrants remove these to save time and focus on issues that will have the most impact. (Yes, updating your team avatar isn’t the most important.) From top to bottom the team writes a solution next to each sticky. These are all captured and documented for the team to refer back to. Make sure at least one person is accountable for each solution so when the time comes you know who is picking it up.


We have listed out everything that could go wrong in the project, agreed as a team a priority order, and how we will stop them from happening or deal with them if they do. Not bad for an hour workshop.

Give it a try next time you start a new project. Good luck!