Fast-forward yourself into the future. Imagine that your project has not gone well. Or let’s face it, it has gone really badly. Maybe even failed.

Regrets can feel devastating

Any of us who have been leaders for a while will know this feeling when something goes wrong on our watch, coupled with the inevitable looking back with regret at the things we didn’t do. Sometimes it’s because we didn’t get around to them, or maybe we tried to do them and they didn’t work, or maybe we didn’t think of them. In the context of failed projects there will likely also be a formal process, usually called a post implementation review or similar. There will be learnings from that, but inside our own heads it can feel devastating – hence the term “post mortem”.

If only you could avoid the “If Onlys”. Actually, you can.

Well in a pre-mortem, you get to go back and do the “If Onlys.” Because of course you’re not going back. You’re in the present and the opportunity to do a pre-mortem exercise gives you the chance to improve the likelihood of success.

Pre-mortems are useful in multiple situations

I was mentoring someone this morning who is at a career cross roads and I introduced her to the pre-mortem approach. She works in a particular field where career choices require a commitment to many, many years of study and are not easily changed. You need to go all in with decisions such as these, so all the more reason to try this approach.

I suggested she imagine herself in 10 years time doing a job she is miserable in, and asked her what she could do now to reduce the risk of that happening. She quickly came up with several practical steps she can take to more deeply explore the options available to her. They’re not difficult things to do, and will take her a bit of time but are well worth the investment.

We can’t always avoid things going wrong, but it’s easier to cope if they do

This strategy doesn’t promise success, but I have also found that even when things don’t work out, it is easier to cope with the outcome if I have done a pre-mortem. There are many things outside our control, but approaching complex challenges this way has really helped me reduce the “If Onlys”. If things don’t work out well, pre-mortems help give you confidence that there was nothing further that you could have done.

Image credit: Filip Havlik on Unsplash