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3 agile tools every manager should know (part 1): Pre-Mortem

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Many methods have emerged from agile work that are intended to simplify the implementation of agile principles and values.While some of these methods will probably never prevail in practice, there are others (such as pre-mortem) that one can only hope for that they do it!

In this series we present three agile methods that we are convinced have come to stay:

Pre-mortem: a better way to plan projects

The concept of pre-mortem ("Before Death") takes advantage of the simple psychological fact that our brain is designed, among other things, to anticipate risks in order to & #8211; especially from an evolutionary perspective & #8211; to ensure survival.

Exactly this ability is applied to projects with Pre-Mortem & #8211; you brainstorm ideas with all project participants to answer the question:

If our project failed, what would that be?

This approach serves to derive project risks optimally, taking into account the experience of all project participants, and to be able to derive appropriate measures.

At the same time, pre-mortems create an atmosphere in which project participants are actively challenged to communicate their ideas, fears and uncertainties. This in turn promotes the psychological safety in the team (according to Google & #8222;Aristotle project& #8220; the secret factor for successful teams).

So everyone in the pre-mortem is asked to think outside the box and uncover potential risks without imposing a uniform perspective on all project participants. This lays the foundation for successful project collaboration (Kahneman, 2011).

Not to be confused: A so-called & #8222;Post-mortem analysis& #8220; again, it is practically the opposite. After a (failed) project, it is about determining how the errors occurred. This retrospective analysis is particularly widespread in chess.

A practical example

With Echometer, too, we use this method both for internal projects and, for example, to prepare for customer appointments. Before customer appointments, we therefore ask each other the questions:

  • What is our goal for the appointment?
  • If we were not to achieve this goal, what would that be?
  • What obstacles could the customer have?
  • What can we do to mitigate these risks in advance?

We're certainly not sales professionals, but pre-mortems at least help us get a little bit better every time. We can also compare afterwards which risks have actually occurred and which have not. This is how we develop a feeling for tricky situations and can adapt to it better and better.

In this short lecture (3 minutes) Daniel Kahneman explains personally why Pre-Mortems is one of his favorite methods:

Economy Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman on pre-mortems

Like Kahneman, we believe that pre-mortems can do a lot of projects out there and project managers can make life a lot easier!

Final notes: In order for a pre-mortem to work well in your team, a certain basis is required psychological security, The 5 team dysfunctions according to Patrick Lencioni are a common example here that can help you create an open discussion culture for it. It's also always worth taking a look at the mindset of team members as another success factor. You can find out how we can help you develop an agile mindset in a team here.  

in the next article In this series we present you a job crafting & #8211; a tool that enables your employees to get their dream job without having to quit & #8211; so have a look purely.


  • Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking, Fast and Slow.
  • Kahneman, D., Lovallo, D. & Sibony, O. (2011). Before you make that big decision… Harvard Business Review, 89 (6), 50-60.
  • Klein, G. (2007). Performing a project premortem. Harvard Business Review, 85 (9), 18-19.
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