One of the things I observed many times in different jobs is that I am skeptical of something, I raise my voice, no one listens. I talk privately to other people that were part of the same discussion, they have similar concerns to mine, but they they didn’t raise them.

One reason could be not wanting to sound the skeptic in the room, or they don’t feel comfortable speaking in a group setting, or there was this particular person (most of the time a big manager) they don’t want to speak in front of. Regardless of the reason, it is one of those cases where multiple people have concerns but wouldn’t raise them.

I was listening to the knowledge project episode with Annie Duke, a world poker champion. One of the things she mentioned about decision making is premortems. I searched it further and found this Harvard Business Review article from 2007. I normally don’t like HBR articles due to their repetitive boring pattern and lack of insights most of the time (I can write a post specifically on that), but this one is a good start on the topic.

Here are the parts I like the most:

A premortem is the hypothetical opposite of a postmortem. A postmortem in a medical setting allows health professionals and the family to learn what caused a patient’s death. Everyone benefits except, of course, the patient. A premortem in a business setting comes at the beginning of a project rather than the end, so that the project can be improved rather than autopsied.
A typical premortem begins after the team has been briefed on the plan. The leader starts the exercise by informing everyone that the project has failed spectacularly. Over the next few minutes those in the room independently write down every reason they can think of for the failure—especially the kinds of things they ordinarily wouldn’t mention as potential problems, for fear of being impolitic.
Next the leader asks each team member, starting with the project manager, to read one reason from his or her list; everyone states a different reason until all have been recorded. After the session is over, the project manager reviews the list, looking for ways to strengthen the plan.

I didn’t know about premortems before. Sounds interesting as it provides this safe environment where different people can raise their concerns. I imagine the biggest challenge would be when to organize one? which decisions need a premortem? and how open are the people involved to facing their potential failure before a new exciting initiative they are going into? Those are questions I am yet to answer.