Mastering the Pre-Mortem: Boost Your Team’s Success and Your Personal Goals With This Simple Exercise

pre-mortem exercise

Listen to the full podcast episode to learn about the science-backed practice that has not only changed my life but also the lives of countless people over the last two decades. This is something you can’t ignore if you want to achieve that great goal you identified for this year and write your new future.


Planning is often seen as the cornerstone of success. Yet, even the most meticulously crafted plans can encounter unforeseen obstacles. So, how can we better prepare for these inevitable bumps in the road?

In this episode, I’ll share an exercise called the pre-mortem, which can help you flip the script and plan for potential pitfalls so you can avoid them altogether. Whether you’re leading a team of 100 — or just yourself —  this powerful exercise can dramatically increase your chances of success!

What is a Pre-Mortem?

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of internal strategists at a company. These strategists are crucial in driving their organization’s strategic goals, often juggling multiple stakeholders with varying priorities and skill sets. 

It can be a challenging environment, and they wanted to know if there was a way to establish ownership and commitment early on to boost their chances of success.

The answer was yes— the pre-mortem.

A pre-mortem is essentially the opposite of a post-mortem. In a medical setting, a post-mortem analyzes what caused a person to die. Similarly in a business setting a post-mortem looks at what has caused a project to fail after it has already failed. A pre-mortem involves imagining that the project has failed before it even begins and then identifying the reasons for this hypothetical failure. 

This proactive approach allows teams and individuals to foresee and address potential issues in advance, thereby improving the chances of success.

Implementing a Pre-Mortem in Team Settings

When leading a team or multiple groups with different priorities, conducting a pre-mortem can quickly establish ownership and commitment among team members. Here’s a couple of effective methods to implement it:

The Checklist Method: If you have an experienced team, you likely already know common reasons for project failures, and you can create a checklist from them. Before starting any new project, review this comprehensive checklist with your team and allow each member to assess potential problems against known issues.

The Brainstorming Method: For a more organic approach, begin by informing team members that the project has hypothetically failed. Give everyone a few minutes to write down all possible reasons for this failure. This method can bring unnoticed but critical issues to light because it encourages fresh perspectives. This leads to a list of potential pitfalls and allows you to address them upfront, strengthening your project plan from the get-go.

For example, someone in operations might highlight technical limitations, while someone in sales might point out market risks. By foreseeing these issues early, you can plan around them, enhancing the project’s chances of success.

Applying the Pre-Mortem to Personal Goals

The beauty of the pre-mortem exercise is that it’s not limited to team projects; it’s also beneficial for personal goal setting. Here’s how you can use it for your own aspirations:

Career Transition: Imagine you have a goal to transition to a more fulfilling career by the end of the year. Instead of starting with enthusiasm and risking a loss of momentum, presuppose that you’ve failed to make the transition. Ask yourself why. Common reasons might include doubting your capabilities, not reaching out for support, or letting other priorities interfere.

By identifying these potential pitfalls at the outset, you can create a stronger, more realistic plan to overcome them. For instance, if imposter syndrome is a concern, you might seek mentorship or professional development opportunities to build your confidence.

Enjoying Your Summer: If your goal is to have a memorable summer, imagine it’s the end of summer, and you feel unfulfilled. Why? Perhaps you didn’t plan activities, prioritize family time, or make spontaneous decisions. By identifying these regrets and the reasons for them in advance, you can proactively plan and schedule activities to ensure a fun and fulfilling summer.

Why use a Pre-Mortem?

With a pre-mortem, you aren’t left to deal with the aftermath of failure; instead, you proactively anticipate and address obstacles. This exercise leads to multiple benefits:

  • Improves Efficiency and Prioritization: By identifying potential problems early, the team (and you) can address them before they become actual issues, saving time and resources.
  • Enhances Focus and Commitment: Team members feel valued for their input and are more committed to the project’s success.
  • Encourages Honest Communication: Team members are more likely to voice concerns and identify issues that might otherwise go unmentioned.
  • Reduces Post-Launch Surprises: Spotting and addressing problems before they arise minimizes last-minute chaos and enhances overall project stability.

Try a Pre-Mortem on Your Next Project!

Choose a project or goal you have right now, conduct a pre-mortem, and see how it transforms your planning and execution. Here’s some tips to help you get started:

  1. Start Small: Practice the pre-mortem exercise with smaller projects or goals to get comfortable with the process.
  2. Be Honest: Encourage honesty and openness during the brainstorming session to uncover all potential issues.
  3. Use the Findings: Act on the identified issues by incorporating solutions into your project plan, ensuring they are addressed from the start.

The pre-mortem exercise is a powerful tool that can significantly improve your chances of success in both professional and personal pursuits.

By anticipating failure and addressing potential issues early, you set yourself and your team up for success. 

Whether you’re leading a large project or pursuing a personal goal, give the pre-mortem a try. You’ll find it transforms the way you plan and execute, helping you avoid pitfalls and achieve your aspirations with greater ease and confidence.

Don’t forget to share your experiences and results—I can’t wait to see what you create!

In this episode:

  • Understand the importance of “failure planning” to help create realistic plans and avoid common pitfalls.
  • Learn the ways to address potential issues before they arise, increasing the likelihood of project success.
  • Develop and encourage team members to voice their concerns and take ownership of fostering a collaborative and committed environment.

Resources and related episodes:


Subscribe on Apple Podcasts for more tips, tools, and inspiration to lead the optimal vision of your life, love, and leadership. Remember, a half version of you is not enough. The world needs the fullest version of you at play.

Listen on Apple Podcasts


About Rita Hyland

With over 20 years of experience as an executive and leadership coach, Rita helps leaders — emerging and established — excel in corporate and entrepreneurial environments.

Rita believes if leaders were more clear about how transformation really works and more intentional about creating what they want, their impact, success, and influence in the world would be unstoppable.

Through her coaching programs, private coaching, and masterminds, Rita shows leaders how to win consistently and create the impact and legacy they desire.

Central to Rita’s work is the understanding that you will never outperform your current programming, no matter how strong your willpower.

When you learn to use Rita’s proprietary Inside Out Method, a technology that uses the best of neuroscience and transformational psychology to hit the brain’s buttons for change, YOU become both the solution and the strategy.

Her mission is to end talented, hard-working, and self-aware leaders spending another day stuck in self-doubt or confusion and not contributing their brilliant work and talent the world so desperately needs.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *