The time travelling team: how to avoid failure before it happens

Things don’t always go to plan on projects. It comes with the territory when working in an adaptive, lean and nimble way.

But how do you get precious hindsight before you’ve started a project?

We use a simple technique to map potential risks or failures at a project kickoff to set the team up for success. And it involves a little time travel.


Step into the Tardis

It’s time to grab a whiteboard and start to hypothesise some future scenarios that could be a risk for the project. List out all the assumptions you have as a team going into the project. But have this question in your mind:

What might cause us to fail in the future?

So it could end up being a risk like:

Senior stakeholders joining mid-project

Some themes worth exploring with the team:

  • Scope of the project
  • Stakeholders knowledge, conflict, fears or anxieties
  • Decision making and sign-off
  • Client organisational structure
  • Resourcing and team shape
  • Dependencies on either side
  • Revenue and commercial implications
  • Technology choices or constraints
  • Gaps in our knowledge
  • Audience needs and behaviours

You’ll end up with a whiteboard full of potential risks for the project.

All of the risks

Get out from behind the sofa

Predicting things that could go wrong in the future might seem a little scary and negative at a project kickoff, but it’s what you do next that counts. Turn this exercise from a total downer into something useful for the team, and come up with ways you could all mitigate the risks you’ve thought of.

And make them actionable.

So for a risk like:

Senior stakeholders joining mid-project

Ways the team could mitigate this might be:

  • Book time in advance to introduce ourselves and get to know them
  • Document our work and process as we go
  • Create and continue to update a project tumblr
  • Create short videos or artefacts that are shareable and tell the story of the project to get them up to speed

Then assign these to tasks / mitigation strategies to members of the team who will take the lead for making it happen.

You’ll end up with a whiteboard that looks a little like this.

Team is set-up for success!

When things go a bit wibbly wobbly

It’s easy to do this activity at the beginning of a project and forget about it. Some of the mitigation strategies you’ll have listed can be put into action before the project begins, but others only really come into play when the project is up and running.

Therefore revisiting these during the project is key to make sure the team is running at it’s best.

We also maintain regular sprint retrospectives and mid-project check-ins to course correct if needed and foster an environment of continuous learning and improvement.

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Read more time travel metaphors with The Time Travelling Designer


Made by Many is a new type of consulting company that brings together product design, business strategy and software engineering as a unified discipline. For 10 years we’ve been helping forward-looking companies to re-imagine their customer experiences, create new models for growth and build new capabilities. See our work.


Originally published at madebymany.com.