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Look at the Glass Half Empty – a Pre-Mortem Exercise

Anyone who has worked with Echo Consulting knows we like to end each meeting with the question "are there any other risks or issues we have not discussed today and need to be added to our project log?". At Echo Consulting, we are passionate about risk management. We believe wholeheartedly that the best way to mitigate risks is to create a safe space for team members to bring forward risks ahead of time to discuss mitigation strategies. That’s one of the reasons we love the concepts of pre-mortems. It creates an environment for the team to share their personal lessons learned from their individual experiences as well as their concerns for the current project in a "safe" environment where everyone is sharing at the same time. From this setting, our teams are able to gather a much broader risk pool to start planning from early on. Pre-Mortems encourage teams to poke holes in project plans before a project to prevent risks from becoming costly and time-consuming. We love getting to watch the teams we work with getting to utilize the lessons learned to the current project rather than waiting until the end as you would with a post-mortem.

Recently, Echo Consulting had the pleasure of hosting a Pre-Mortem for the Digital Medicine Society (DiMe). We were able to utilize Mural to facilitate this exercise virtually. Mural provided us with a digitalized whiteboard environment allowing us to recreate the experience that would typically be in person. DiMe was able to have nearly 50 experts from different sectors of healthcare collaborate & vote throughout the exercise.

To prep for this pre-mortem, we worked with the stakeholder groups to establish key theme groups of risks. In this case, the theme groups were study design, data quality, tech/vendor support & operations/maintenance. We used these theme groups to establish breakout groups for each session. Forms were sent out allowing the participants to enter any perceived risks that were then added to the board ahead of time. This anonymity established the foundation for the “safe space” this exercise strives to create.

In the first breakout session, each theme group took the risks submitted via the form and grouped them with other similar risks submitted. Once they had the risks grouped, they created summarized risks if needed. From there we encouraged participants to work together to evaluate the likeliness of a risk occurring as well as the likelihood of the risk causing failure and from that information place the risks onto the “Risk to Failure” grid. Back together in the large group we examined each breakout session's findings and took the top 3 risks from the Grid to evaluate further in the second breakout session.

In the second breakout session, we facilitated a “5 Why’s” exercise with the top risks that were identified. The “5 Why’s” is an effective exercise for uncovering the root cause of a problem or risk. The simplistic exercise starts with a risk or problem then asks why it is occurring. Repeat the why question four additional times until you identify the root cause. This exercise allows for the root cause of the risk to be identified to determine solutions for the risk.

The third and final breakout session was focused on solutions. The group completed a five-minute solution brainstorm where they each completed an individual “brain dump” of solutions. As a group, they then read and summarized the solutions for each risk. We had the group place the solutions into four categories - avoid, mitigate, transfer, and accept. After the solutions were summarized and grouped, the large group had an opportunity to vote on the top solutions from each breakout theme. From there we were able to have them vote via a form and weigh the impact they perceive each proposed solution has on the overarching strategic objectives.

Pre-Mortems can be facilitated differently depending upon the organization or project, but the purpose remains the same. It allows you to poke holes in project plans to identify risks and create mitigation strategies prior to the project starting. Pre-mortems create a safe space for team members to express perceived risks which can draw out outliers that would previously be overlooked.

If you and your team are interested in having Echo Consulting host a Pre-Mortem workshop – email for more information and pricing options.


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