Consider Being An Obstetrician When You Are Leading

You may well have heard the term post-mortem in project management or business. A post-mortem is undertaken after a project is complete to identify what did and didn’t work and change organizational processes to incorporate lessons learned for the future.

In the military, you would refer to a post-mortem as an ‘After Action Review/Report’ or a ‘Hot Wash.’

Just as a coroner conducts post-mortems to find out the cause of death, in business, post-mortems are vital to find out what went wrong with your project.

By definition, a coroner explores the dead.

But maybe you should invest more in being an obstetrician and less into being a coroner.


Obstetrician? – Giving Birth to your Project

When birthing your project, you should conduct a thorough examination – a premortem – to help you prepare for every eventuality. 

Have your team consider all that might happen during the life of your project. Then factor these into your plan before it starts.

Read more about ‘Red Teaming’ your ideas.

You can facilitate the pre-mortem conversation based on the following questions:

      • What could cause us to miss our deadline?
      • What will keep our project on time?
      • What does this project need that we don’t have?
      • What do we already have that this project needs?
      • What lessons have you learned from past projects?
      • What are you worried about?
      • What are you excited about?

Start the meeting by asking the team to consider the following:

What could go wrong with this project?

What could go right with this project?

The goal of the meeting is to focus only on this project.

Read about the 4 risks that will sink your change management plan.

Give the team ten minutes to silently write their answers into a document or on sticky notes placed under each question.

Group similar ideas together as a team to merge similar ideas into lists.

Ask participants to vote on the cards or sticky notes across the board that pose the biggest threat to the project and those that represent keys to the project’s success.

Try asking, “What’s the opposite of this risk?” Imagine success and use that to guide a plan towards it.

Act by having your team commit to each action with an owner and a deadline.

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Then become a General Practitioner and provide follow-up care, by:

Saving it – Save the Premortem discussion and action items in your team’s file-sharing space so your team and stakeholders can easily find them.

Tracking action items – Add action items to your project board and future team meeting agendas to track progress.

Revisiting – Revisit your Premortem document periodically to ensure you know the project’s risks and that you are actively addressing them.