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24 Pre-Mortem Templates For Your Next Planning Workshop


The term “pre-mortem” has yet to make its way into the dictionary, but the approach isnโ€™t new. For millennia, Buddhists have practiced Maranasati, a meditation in which you consider your own mortality.

By embracing the inevitability of death, Maranasati helps us appreciate the present and better prepare for life’s challenges. In a pre-mortem, we apply this ancient wisdom to a somewhat lower-stakes pursuit: your team’s project.

In a pre-mortem, we flip the traditional post-mortem and examine a project’s hypothetical demise before it meets a bitter end. You dissect potential pitfalls, setbacks, and risks lurking in a projectโ€™s shadows, so youโ€™re well-prepared to prevent failures and finish your project alive and well.

This article gives you 23 pre-mortem ideas so you can confront any situation and stave off disaster. Each template has been crafted with a distinct approach and emphasis, so you can pick the one that best suits your situation.

โœจ All pre-mortem templates originally created by Parabol unless noted otherwise โœจ

Project management and execution pre-mortem ideas

These template ideas let you manage projects with vision and precision. They help you navigate challenges, allocate resources, and manage your timeline with the foresight of a seasoned project manager.

1. Why did the project fail?

Work backward from failure to uncover hidden risks

“Why did the project fail?” is like the Margherita pizza of pre-mortem ideas โ€“ itโ€™s the classic approach for conducting pre-mortems.

In this format, teams imagine the project has already failed and work backward to find potential reasons for the failure. This template effectively uncovers hidden risks and stimulates proactive problem-solving โ€“ all based around one simple question.

Pre-mortem question of this template:

  • โ‰๏ธ Why did the project fail?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template excels at:

  • Introducing teams to pre-mortems.
  • Finding risks and challenges using a straightforward, time-tested technique.

2. Success and failure pre-mortem

Chart a course to success that avoids pitfalls to create a winning strategy

The Success and Failure pre-mortem forms a road map for your project, highlighting the route to success and the potential hazards along the way.

This pre-mortem idea asks team members to envision the project’s ultimate triumph and possible setbacks. By anticipating positive outcomes and obstacles, teams can create a winning strategy and steer around pitfalls.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿ† What does success look like? Envision the end goal and the milestones that mark the path to success.
  • ๐Ÿšง What does failure look like? Consider the potential obstacles and challenges that could derail the project.

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template excels at:

  • Defining clear objectives and milestones for a project.
  • Uncovering potential challenges and devising strategies to avoid them.
  • Aligning the team with a shared vision of success and a winning strategy.

3. Team efficiency pre-mortem

Navigate roadblocks and streamline teamwork for peak performance

Picture having a GPS for your project that guides you around roadblocks and puts you in synchronized motion with your coworkers โ€“ meet the Team Efficiency pre-mortem.

This technique finds factors that might slow down your team, cause bottlenecks, or require extra support. Addressing these concerns in advance can enhance team efficiency and help you stay on track to meet deadlines.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • โณ What slowed us down? Identify processes or factors that could hinder your team’s progress.
  • ๐Ÿšง Where could we get stuck? Anticipate potential bottlenecks or obstacles that may stall the project.
  • ๐Ÿ†˜ Where might we need extra help? Recognize areas where your team may require additional resources or expertise.
  • ๐ŸŽฏ What caused us to miss the deadline? Envision scenarios that could lead to missed deadlines and develop strategies to avoid them.

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template is perfect for:

  • Boosting team efficiency and collaboration.
  • Finding and tackling potential roadblocks and bottlenecks.
  • Ensuring you meet deadlines and keep the project on track.

4. Obstacle course pre-mortem

Handle the twists and turns of project challenges with agility and foresight

Transform your project planning into an Obstacle Course pre-mortem and train your team to conquer challenges like an athlete. By anticipating the hurdles, pitfalls, and twists in your project’s path, you can develop strategies to overcome each obstacle and confidently reach the finish line.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿšง Hurdles: What barriers might we encounter that require us to change course or adapt our approach?
  • ๐Ÿ•ณ๏ธ Pitfalls: What hidden traps or pitfalls could cause setbacks, delays, or negative impacts on the project?
  • ๐ŸŒช๏ธ Twists: What unexpected changes or surprises might require quick thinking and flexibility?
  • ๐ŸŽฝ Teamwork: How can we best support each other and collaborate to overcome these challenges and reach our goals?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template excels at:

  • Encouraging adaptability and agility in navigating project challenges.
  • Fostering team collaboration and mutual support to conquer obstacles.

5. Timeline pre-mortem

Prepare for potential roadblocks at every stage of your project

The Timeline pre-mortem examines your upcoming project from start to finish. This template focuses on potential challenges at different project stages, helping you anticipate and prepare for obstacles along the way.

The timeline pre-mortem questions include suggestions for typical issues you might face at each stage, but feel free to add your own by customizing it!

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿ“† Start: What challenges might we face at the beginning of the project? Consider potential obstacles such as team formation, initial planning, and resource allocation.
  • ๐Ÿ•ฐ๏ธ Middle: What challenges might we face during the middle of the project? Reflect on possible hurdles like shifting deadlines, team fatigue, and evolving priorities.
  • ๐Ÿ End: What challenges might we face at the end of the project? Envision potential difficulties like last-minute changes, finalizing deliverables, and closing the project effectively.

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template works wonders for:

  • Ensuring preparedness for challenges at every stage of the project.
  • Encouraging proactive problem-solving and risk management throughout the project’s lifecycle

6. Resource allocation pre-mortem

Fine-tune your resources for a flawless project performance

The Resource Allocation pre-mortem turns your team into a finely tuned orchestra, with all resources playing harmoniously to create a beautiful symphony of project success.

This template prompts teams to think about potential gaps and challenges related to people, time, budget, and tools. By addressing these concerns early on, you can optimize resource allocation and pave the way for a smoother and more successful project.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿ’ผ People: Are we lacking any essential skills or expertise for the project?
  • โณ Time: Are there any time constraints or scheduling conflicts that could hinder the project?
  • ๐Ÿ’ฐ Budget: Are there any budget limitations or financial risks that could impact the project?
  • ๐Ÿ› ๏ธ Tools: Are there any gaps in our toolset or technology stack that could impact the project?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template is great at:

  • Ensuring your team has the right skills, expertise, and resources for project success.
  • Identifying potential constraints and challenges in time, budget, and tools.
  • Facilitating proactive planning and optimization of resource allocation.

7. Best/worst case scenario pre-mortem

Transform the worst case scenario into the best possible outcome

The Best/Worst Case Scenario pre-mortem acts as a crystal ball that reveals the potential outcomes of your project.

This approach prompts teams to envision the best and worst-case scenarios and develop actions to turn potential pitfalls into triumphs. By preparing for adversity and striving for excellence, you can confidently navigate challenges and achieve your project goals.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿคฆ Worst case scenario: What does the worst case scenario look like? Consider the most significant setbacks and obstacles your project could face.
  • ๐Ÿ™Œ Best case scenario: What does the best case scenario look like? Imagine your project’s ultimate success and the milestones that lead to it.
  • โ›ณ Actions: What actions can we take to transform the worst-case scenario into the best-case scenario? Develop strategic plans and contingencies to turn challenges into opportunities.

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template excels at:

  • Sparking creativity that envisions what disaster and excellence might look like.
  • Inspiring proactive problem-solving and strategic action planning.

Risk management pre-mortem ideas

These pre-mortem templates give you the clarity of a monk in deep meditation and illuminate the darkest corners of potential project risks. By identifying and managing threats proactively, youโ€™ll bring balance to your project’s journey and walk the path to success with greater certainty.

8. Risks and precautions pre-mortem

Find the biggest risks and take preventive action to prevent problems

The Risks and Precautions pre-mortem is like an insurance policy for your project. This template helps teams find the most significant risks and develop proactive measures to minimize their impact. By addressing potential issues in advance, you can create a smoother project journey by being prepared for challenges that may come up.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿ’ฅ Risks: What are the biggest risks we could face during the project?
  • โ›‘๏ธ Precautions: What precautions should we take now to mitigate these risks?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template works well for:

  • Encouraging proactive risk management and implementing safeguards.
  • Enhancing team preparedness and resilience in the face of challenges.

9. Blind spot pre-mortem

Shine a light on hidden threats for proactive risk management

Imagine equipping your team with night-vision goggles to reveal the unseen. The Blind Spot pre-mortem does just that for your projects: this template uncovers both apparent and hidden threats lurking in the shadows.

To expose unknown risks, team members must get creative and look at the project from unexpected perspectives. For example, they could ask, “What if our competitor releases a similar product before us?” or confront unforeseen scenarios such as, “What if our main developer falls ill during a critical phase?”

The team can identify and address previously undetected risks by challenging assumptions and viewing the project from surprising angles.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿ‘๏ธ Visible: What obvious threats should we mitigate?
  • ๐Ÿ‘ป Invisible: What hidden or unknown threats should we pre-empt?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template excels at:

  • Enhancing risk awareness by addressing both evident and concealed threats.
  • Encouraging problem-solving and preparation for unforeseen challenges.
  • Prompting team members to look deeper at risks they may not have considered.

10. What if… pre-mortem

Explore tailored scenarios for targeted risk mitigation

The What if… pre-mortem is like a choose-your-own-adventure book for risk management. This adaptable template invites you to identify and address risks by asking targeted questions and developing ways to reduce those risks. By tailoring the process to their context, teams can delve into the unique risks of their project.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • What if [insert]: Customize this question to address a specific risk.
  • What if [insert]: Adapt this question to tackle another unique challenge.
  • What if [insert]: Tailor this question to explore an additional concern.

๐Ÿค– Not sure what risk to [insert]? Try using an AI tool like ChatGPT with the following prompt: โ€œPlease generate a comprehensive list of risks (big, small; obvious, not obvious) we should consider during a pre-mortem at the start of a {insert your project type} project, so we can try to mitigate them.

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template is perfect for:

  • Pinpointing and addressing critical risks unique to a project.
  • Inspiring focused brainstorming to develop effective mitigation strategies.
  • Populating with risks or issues youโ€™ve experienced in the past, so you can agree upfront how they will be resolved if they happen again.

11. Threat level pre-mortem

Assess project risks with color-coded precision

Inspired by color-coded threat assessment systems, the Threat Level pre-mortem assigns risk levels to potential issues, helping teams identify the severity of potential challenges.

This template encourages a thorough evaluation of each risk, allowing teams to allocate resources and develop strategies based on the threat level. Like real-world threat assessments, each classification warrants different actions and attention.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿ”ด Severe: What severe issues could we run into that derail the project? (Requires a separate meeting or review.)
  • ๐ŸŸก Elevated: What moderate issues would we run into that delay the project? (Warrants 10-20 minutes of discussion during the pre-mortem.)
  • ๐ŸŸข Low: What low-risk issues should we expect? (Max. 5 minutes of discussion during the pre-mortem)

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template works well for:

  • Gauging the severity of potential risks.
  • Allocating resources and efforts based on risk levels.
  • Encouraging appropriate actions and attention for each threat level.
  • Prioritizing the risks you will mitigate.

12. How likely to fail? pre-mortem

Prioritize problems by probability for strategic action planning

The โ€œHow Likely to Fail?โ€ pre-mortem makes predicting and prioritizing problems possible by looking at how likely they are to happen. This pre-mortem template helps a team to figure out what risks are most important to focus on and how to fix them.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿ’ฏ Highly likely: What issues are we highly likely to face?
  • ๐Ÿค” Likely: What issues are we likely to face?
  • ๐Ÿคท Possible: What issues could we possibly face?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template is excellent for:

  • Systematically assessing potential risks.
  • Prioritizing actions based on the likelihood of issues arising.

13. Excited and worried pre-mortem

Balance optimism with a reality check for a more robust project plan

excited and worried pre-mortem template image

The Excited and Worried pre-mortem mixes a healthy dose of optimism with a splash of reality. Itโ€™s the pre-mortem version of the Hopes and Fears futurespective. This template encourages team members to share both their excitement and concerns about the project. This approach ensures excitement doesn’t blind them to potential issues while preventing negativity from draining motivation before the project starts.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿคฉ What are you excited about?
  • ๐Ÿ˜จ What are you worried about?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template is perfect for:

  • Inspiring enthusiasm among team members.
  • Balancing excitement with a reality check to prevent issues.

Fun pre-mortem templates

These entertaining pre-mortem templates challenge conventional thinking and inspire creative problem-solving while adding a touch of lightheartedness to the serious business of risk mitigation.

14. Iguana, Crocodile, Komodo Dragon Pre-mortem

Tackle threats of all shapes and sizes to fortify your project against failure

Let Iguanas, Crocodiles, and Komodo Dragons help your team confront and conquer threats of varying sizes and predictability.

By differentiating between harmless Iguanas and formidable Komodo Dragons, you can design appropriate strategies for each potential threat to your projectโ€™s success.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐ŸฆŽ Iguana: What minor issues can we quickly and easily resolve now?
  • ๐ŸŠ Crocodile: What significant and foreseeable threats does this project face?
  • ๐Ÿ‰ Komodo Dragon: What big, scary, and unpredictable challenges might we encounter?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template excels at:

  • Crafting solutions that correspond to the scale and nature of each threat.
  • Strengthening project resilience by dealing with challenges that vary in difficulty and predictability.

15. Glass half-empty vs. half-full pre-mortem

Serve a cocktail of optimism and caution to increase project success

The Glass Half-Empty vs. Half-Full pre-mortem is a well-rounded approach that invites team members to reflect on a project’s strengths and vulnerabilities. This template ensures teams capitalize on their competencies and address weaknesses, making the project more likely to succeed.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • โณ Glass half full: What do we expect to go well?
  • โŒ› Glass half empty: What do we worry will go wrong?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template is ideal for:

  • Encouraging a balanced and comprehensive view of the project.
  • Leveraging team strengths while addressing potential vulnerabilities.

16. Safari pre-mortem

Spot danger on the horizon before it devours your project

Embark on a Safari pre-mortem and traverse the wild terrain and dangers of a typical project. Catch risks that may emerge on the horizon, lie in wait, or lurk right under your nose. Donโ€™t forget to bring binoculars, sturdy boots, and a hat for the sun!

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿฆ’ Giraffe: What risks can we see from a long way off and pre-empt now?
  • ๐Ÿ˜ Elephant: What concerns you that nobody else is discussing?
  • ๐Ÿ… Cheetah: What issues are hidden in plain sight, ready to pounce on us?
  • ๐Ÿ’ Monkeys: What early warning signs could indicate something is going wrong?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template excels at:

  • Preparing for a wide range of short-term and long-term challenges.
  • Encouraging open communication and vigilance among team members.

17. Mad scientist pre-mortem

Unleash the genius within to tackle wild and unexpected risks

Summon your inner mad scientist and concoct imaginative solutions to the wild and unexpected risks that threaten your project. The Mad Scientist pre-mortem encourages your team to think outside the box, experiment, and innovate to tackle even the most unpredictable challenges.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • โš—๏ธ Crazy experiments: What wild and unexpected risks might we face?
  • ๐Ÿงช Freak accidents: What surprising challenges could throw our project off course?
  • ๐Ÿ’ก Innovative solutions: How can we invent creative strategies to counter these threats?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template is perfect for:

  • Encouraging imaginative thinking and experimentation.
  • Developing unique solutions to counter the most unexpected risks and challenges.

18. Uncertain waters pre-mortem

Sail over treacherous waters and avoid capsizing your project

Set sail on a Uncertain Waters pre-mortem and chart a course through the uncertainties and unknowns of your project. Your team can reach its project destination without drowning by plotting a path around potential storms, hidden reefs, and other dangers.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐ŸŒŠ Hidden reefs: What unforeseen obstacles or issues could cause us to run aground?
  • ๐ŸŒ€ Storms: What significant challenges or crises might we face during the project?
  • โš“ Anchors: What might hold us back, slow our progress, or hinder our efficiency?
  • ๐Ÿ๏ธ Safe harbors: How can we best prepare to weather these challenges and uncertainties?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template excels at:

  • Making contingency plans for potential blockers and bottlenecks.
  • Building team camaraderie with a fun metaphor.

19. Fortune teller pre-mortem

Predict the future to change the course of history your project for the better

Step inside the mystical world of the Fortune Teller pre-mortem and unlock the secrets of your project’s future. By predicting potential issues and exploring their impact, your team can devise strategies to improve the course of the project.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿ”ฎ Crystal ball: What potential issues do we foresee arising during the project?
  • ๐ŸŒŸ Stars align: How might these issues impact our project’s success or failure?
  • โœจ Changing fate: What actions can we take now to alter the course of our project for the better?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template works well for:

  • Anticipating challenges and their impact on project success.
  • Encouraging proactive planning and preparation for potential issues.
  • Empowering teams to take control of their project’s destiny.

Stakeholder management and communication pre-mortem ideas

These templates encourage compassionate communication and support you in the delicate dance of stakeholder management. By creating a harmonious project environment, you can ensure a smoother journey toward your goals.

21. Stakeholder concerns pre-mortem

Anticipate and address stakeholder concerns for a smoother project journey.

Use the Stakeholder Concerns pre-mortem to consider the perspectives of everyone involved in your project. Understanding and addressing their concerns in advance builds stronger relationships, improves communication, and prevents later conflict on your project journey.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿคต Executive concerns: What concerns might our executives have about the project?
  • ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ’ผ Team concerns: What concerns might our team members have about the project?
  • ๐Ÿค Client concerns: What concerns might our clients have about the project?
  • ๐ŸŒ Community concerns: What concerns might the broader community have about the project?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template is perfect for:

  • Enhancing communication and collaboration with key stakeholders.
  • Fostering stronger relationships with executives, team members, clients, and the broader community.

22. Communication breakdown pre-mortem

Prevent misunderstandings and miscommunication from derailing your project

The Communication Breakdown pre-mortem is like a stress test for your projectโ€™s communication channels. By identifying potential communication issues, you can strengthen the flow of information and enhance collaboration, ensuring that your project stays on track.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿ“ฃ Internal communication: What communication issues might arise within the team?
  • ๐Ÿ’ฌ External communication: What communication issues might arise with stakeholders or clients?
  • ๐Ÿ“ฉ Information flow: What issues might hinder the flow of information between team members or stakeholders?
  • ๐Ÿคฏ Misunderstandings: What potential misunderstandings or misconceptions could cause problems?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template excels at:

  • Identifying and addressing communication barriers.
  • Ensuring smooth collaboration and information sharing among team members and stakeholders.
  • Proactively preventing misunderstandings and misconceptions that could derail the project.

Agile and Scrum pre-mortem ideas

These Agile and Scrum pre-mortem ideas ensure your team remains nimble and responsive. With a focus on collaboration and continuous improvement, you can tackle challenges unique to Agile environments and steer your project toward success.

23. Scrum sprint pre-Mortem

For Scrum teams that need a fresh start to their sprints

The Scrum sprint pre-mortem is an excellent way to analyze, anticipate, and avoid potential problems during your Scrum events.

This template works well as a futurespective for new teams or groups who need a break from their regular Scrum cycle and a fresh look at how they run their events.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐ŸŽฏ Product backlog: What challenges could arise in maintaining a healthy and prioritized backlog?
  • ๐Ÿ“Š Sprint planning: What obstacles might we face in effectively planning and executing sprints?
  • ๐Ÿ”„ Retrospectives: What challenges could impact the effectiveness of our retrospectives and continuous improvement efforts?
  • ๐Ÿš€ Sprint review: What issues could affect our ability to showcase our progress to stakeholders?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template is perfect for:

  • Identifying and addressing challenges specific to the Scrum framework.
  • Enhancing the effectiveness of Scrum events and overall project performance.

24. Scrum roles pre-mortem

Identify and conquer challenges unique to each team member’s role

The Scrum Roles pre-mortem recognizes that each team member wears a unique hat with distinct responsibilities and challenges. This idea guides you to pinpoint and tackle potential obstacles specific to each Scrum role โ€“ Scrum Master, Developer, and Product Owner โ€“ so everyone can perform at their best and contribute to the project’s success.

Pre-mortem questions of this template:

  • ๐Ÿƒ Scrum Master: What challenges might the Scrum Master face in facilitating the project?
  • ๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ’ป Developers: What challenges might the developers face in executing the project?
  • ๐Ÿ“š Product Owner: What challenges might the Product Owner face in managing the product backlog and aligning with stakeholders?

๐ŸŒŸ This pre-mortem template is perfect for:

  • Acknowledging and addressing the unique challenges of each team member’s role.
  • Enhancing individual performance and overall project success by addressing role-specific obstacles.

The pre-mortem path to project enlightenment

Incorporating pre-mortem ideas into your project planning process can be as enlightening as a session of Maranasati meditation, allowing your team to foresee challenges, develop countermeasures, and boost project resilience.

Whether taking on a colossal endeavor or a minor task, these pre-mortem ideas will enable you to embrace uncertainty with the confidence and determination of a seasoned Zen master. So, embark on your ambitious projects armed with the knowledge and tools to overcome any obstacles you might face.

๐Ÿ“š Further reading:

Tim Metz

Tim Metz

Tim Metz crafts content at Animalz for the world’s most amazing startups. He’s passionate about deep work and work-life balance.

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