Tip #1: Prior to the project’s start, conduct a “pre-mortem.”
When we discuss complex projects, we’re general talking about projects burdened with significant uncertainty. Traditional top-down estimating techniques are frequently not sufficient to help understand the probable outcomes of the project. Yet those techniques are the ones that senior management uses to develop a business case for the project, and subsequently to set expectations for project outcomes. Coupled with management’s propensity to underestimate the cost, duration, and impact of significant projects, the project manager and the project team
begin the project facing unachievable expectations. To minimize the probability of unachievable expectations, it has been suggested that senior managers conduct a “pre-mortem.” As project managers, we’re well familiar with the concept of project post-mortems (even though they’re only occasionally conducted in businesses today). In the post-mortem, the key stakeholders review a project they’ve just completed and try to understand what went well, what didn’t go so well, and how to achieve greater success on similar projects in the future by employing lessons-learned. Similarly, those involved in the pre-mortem are asked to do the same thing. However, they must first imagine themselves one to two years in the future faced with a failed project. Then they need to ask themselves what occurrences, anticipated or unexpected, might have caused the project to fail – essentially they’re conducting an early-on risk management assessment. Finally, they should temper the scope, budget, and schedule by adding in those efforts that would help mitigate the envisioned failure. By doing so, they’ll help to set more realistic expectations of project outcomes.