How to Run a Premortem for Product Launches from Avenir Design
The Premortem Explainer for Software Development Teams
What is a premortem?
A premortem is a technique you use prior to a product launch to help anticipate any major issues and plan around them. The term was originally developed by cognitive researcher Gary Klein and the concept was launched by his article in the Harvard Business Review.
A premortem gets a bunch of people in a room together to hypothesize why a project, initiative, or launch might fail. They then prioritize the issues and create action plans to address the most critical ones.
I’ve used this meeting technique frequently to de-risk upcoming project launches and it is one of my favorite product management techniques. It’s best for initiatives where there's a lot of cross-functional work involved; if the feature release is minor and doesn’t require customer announcements or changes to sales processes then it probably isn’t going to be as helpful.
To help you along with this, I've created a Figjam template that you can use to host your own premortem.
Why do a premortem?
Premortems create psychological safety, allowing everyone to express their concerns and worries in a safe environment. As Klein writes in his article:
Projects fail at a spectacular rate. One reason is that too many people are reluctant to speak up about their reservations during the all-important planning phase. By making it safe for dissenters who are knowledgeable about the undertaking and worried about its weaknesses to speak up, you can improve a project’s chances of success.
Launching products is hard and there are a lot of moving parts and dependencies. A premortem can help the team visualize and understand these dependencies, and increase empathy for the work that everyone across the company needs to do to make sure a product launch is successful.