I want to try this with some projects, but I also see value in it operationally. For example, I want to try this with my development teams:
Imagine this scenario: we just released the next major version of the product. It was a spectacular failure. The business is angry. The customers are ringing the phone off the hook. We completely blew the schedule to boot. What things do you think went wrong to cause it?
I plan to open things up to suggestions as to what went wrong, write them down on the whiteboard, then we’ll have a problem-solving session on what we can do to prevent these things from happening. I am hoping to come out of it with some significant process improvements.
This is a great tool in my opinion. Post-mortems sometimes turn into blame sessions. They also bring forth observations which would have been valuable before the project was underway, but now are of less value. People also sometimes have trouble projecting what they learned forward- they see what went wrong, they resolve to ‘never do it again’, then they fail to apply what they learned to the next project, because it seems like a different situation. If you run through a pre-mortem, then when people see the problems named in the same situation that they imagined the problems, the ‘lesson learned’ will instantly applicable and easy to relate to the problem. I recommend trying this before taking on any major project or repeatable process.