Getting introspective: How to look forward

Getting introspective: How to look forward

Now we’ve all heard a lot about the post-mortem, wash up, retrospective. Everything about looking back on a project and seeing what went well, what went wrong, the points you wanted to tear your hair out and cry (oh yes, many of these).

But how about something that looks to the future? Isn’t there a benefit in looking forwards rather than always looking back?

Step forward the pre-mortem. One thing though, before I go into more details – what is this obsession in project management with using negative words to do with things like war and death? The battle or war room. Pre- and post-mortems. Enough of the fighting talk! So I propose, instead of pre-mortem, the ‘introspective’.

In my talk at Deliver Conf in Manchester, about project estimation and banishing the ballpark, I spoke about how it’s very difficult to look into a crystal ball and predict the future. How can a project cost estimate be accurate months in advance of a finished product?

It’s like a weather forecast: a meteorologist could say it’s likely to be warm in July (well, unless you’re in Britain), but that cannot be placed more accurately until closer to the time – all number of things can affect it.

Looking to the future is incredibly hard. How can you predict how things will change over the lifespan of a project? Anything could happen to throw all your careful planning, estimating, and setting up off course.

So what can you do to account for change or curveballs along the course of your project? This is where the introspective can help.

So here’s what to do to incorporate it into your project.

Arrange a team meeting:

At the beginning of a project (before estimating, or at kick off) get the team in a room for 30 minutes. That’s it – 30 minutes of your time upfront.

Ask the following question:

“Imagine you are 6 months / a year into the project (base this on the actual predicted length) and it’s gone horribly wrong. What happened?”

Get the team thinking about the worst:

Now there’s something about human nature that almost makes it a bit gleeful to revel in the bad stuff. A starter question like this, asking the team to imagine the worst without having to live through it (hopefully…), is a fun exercise that could prove useful.

Run through and collate the answers:

Get the team to write on post-its anything they can think of that might derail the project, then chat through them briefly. You can group them together into core areas e.g. by tasks such as design, or by areas like client needs.

Bingo. You’ve just got a nice, well-rounded positioning of the risks involved in the project, and watch-out points. Use this for your cost estimate. Use this for your risk log. Use this as a talking point with your client or stakeholders.

Don’t be afraid to repeat this exercise throughout the project. As I’ve said, things change, people change, situations change – therefore factors affecting your project will change.

Let me know if you’ve used this approach and if you have any feedback!

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