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40+ Pre-Mortem Questions For Your Next Workshop

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Pre-mortem meetings are critical for identifying potential project risks and challenges before they occur. As a meeting facilitator, it’s important to come prepared with some thoughtful pre-mortem questions that encourage participants to think critically about the project’s potential pitfalls. 

With a handful of questions you can ensure the team has considered risks from every angle and is well-prepared to address any issues that may arise during your project!

Problem-focused questions

This first set of questions focus on the risk at hand. Use these questions to probe further into “what could go wrong?” and examine your upcoming project from every angle, so you’re prepared for the worst. 

  1. What could go wrong with our project or plan?
  2. What does failure look like?
  3. What are the biggest risks we face in executing this project?
  4. What are the key assumptions we have made, and what happens if they are proven wrong?
  5. What early warning signs would tell us something is going wrong?
  6. What external factors (such as market changes, economic conditions, or competitor actions) are likely to impact our success?
  7. What could we end up doing to cause our own failure?
  8. What are the potential blind spots in our plan or approach?
  9. What are the potential unintended consequences of our actions?
  10. What could cause delays or other roadblocks to success?
  11. What could we overlook or underestimate?
  12. What could go wrong that we haven’t even considered yet?
  13. What risks have we faced in the past that are still unmitigated?
  14. What’s the most likely reason this project fails?
  15. What’s the most likely and most threatening reason this project could fail?
  16. What factors could cause us to miss the deadline of this project?
  17. What factors could cause us to go over-budget on this project? 
  18. What if we don’t have the necessary resources (time, money, personnel, etc.) to complete the project?
  19. Are there any unexpected legal or regulatory changes that could affect the project?
  20. What if the market or customer’s needs change mid-project?
  21. What if the project scope or requirements are unclear or constantly changing?
  22. What could we do if team members leave or become unavailable during the project?
  23. What if our competitors launch a similar project or product while we’re still in development?

Solutions-focused questions

Once you’ve identified some potential causes of failure, follow them up with the questions below. These questions are designed to help you dig deeper into how to mitigate risks. 

  1. How might our team communication break down during the project?
  2. How can we ensure that we have the necessary resources to complete the project on time and within budget?
  3. How can we address potential conflicts or disagreements among team members?
  4. How might we avoid overlooking key project requirements or deliverables?
  5. How can we keep up with changing market or customer needs throughout the project?
  6. How might we adapt the project plan if unforeseen challenges arise?
  7. How can we ensure that our project timeline is realistic and achievable?
  8. How might we mitigate the risks associated with using new or untested technologies?
  9. How can we ensure that project goals and objectives are clearly defined and understood by all team members?
  10. How might we address the potential impact of external factors on the project, such as economic conditions or supply chain disruptions?
  11. How do we fill in the gaps if someone is sick?

Pre-mortem questions to encourage takeaway tasks

The goal of a pre-mortem is to come up with some clear actions your teams can implement to reduce risk and increase the chances of project success. With that in mind, use these questions at the end of each discussion topic to develop some takeaway tasks. 

  1. Given everything we’ve discussed, what precautions should we take?
  2. What action can we take now to mitigate the risk?
  3. Are there any risks we haven’t considered in this pre-mortem?
  4. Are there risks you are worried nobody is talking about? 
  5. What’s one simple thing we can do to reduce the risk of failure?
  6. What do we have the power to impact and what’s outside our control?
  7. What’s the easiest thing we can do right now to reduce the risk of failure?
  8. If we could only do one thing to reduce the risk of failure, what would it be?

Better questions = better pre-mortems

With a selection of these questions in your quiver, you’ll be ready to make the most of your pre-mortem workshop. If you’re looking for a structured approach to running pre-mortems that keeps meetings on track and takes away the guesswork, you couldn’t do much better than trying Parabol. 

With Parabol you can choose from a growing library of pre-made pre-mortem templates (or create your own!). You also get access to powerful facilitator tools, like timers, “ready” buttons, icebreakers, and more,  to push your meeting forward to a positive endpoint. The best news of all? It’s free to use for up to two teams. So why not give it a spin for your next pre-mortem meeting. 

Gareth Davies

Gareth Davies

Gareth is the Content Lead at Parabol. He has spent his career helping people and organizations around the world communicate better. He likes learning languages, cycling, and journalling. He originally hails from Wales, but lives and works in Munich, Germany.

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