A premortem exercise provides workshop participants with the opportunity to collectively identify and address potential risks or challenges before the outset of a project. This method can also be used in the workshop planning phase.


During this exercise, workshop participants are asked to imagine a potential project has failed. Through a facilitated discussion exercise, they are encouraged to express their views and concerns about all the possible reasons for the project’s demise, based on the ‘failed project’ future scenario. Rather than performing a post-project ‘autopsy’ (or post-mortem), this exercise helps them to consider all practical challenges before the outset of a project, which can help them mitigate those risks once the project starts.




Any number

For larger numbers, the participants can be split into groups, and after their group discussions, share with the rest of the (entire) group an overview of the key risks they have identified.


Minimum 30 minutes | F2F & Online

A premortem can be facilitated over a longer period (e.g. 1-2 hours or more) depending on the size of the group and complexity of the project being discussed. For online workshops, participants should be given sufficient breaks to avoid screen fatigue.


  • A blank wall/pinboard and sticky notes for the facilitator;
  • Note pads and pens for the participants.
  • Online version: An interactive white board or note taking application, such as Miro, LucidChart or GroupMap.


The participants need to have a good understanding of the project brief, scope and objectives, in order to be able to participate in the discussion.


Step 1

The exercise starts by the workshop facilitators telling the participants to imagine that their projects completely failed.

Step 2

The participants have a few minutes to write down any reason they can think of for the project failure. The facilitator encourages them to think as creatively as possible, and include any reason – big or small, likely or unlikely.

Step 3

The facilitator asks each person (or, for large groups, group representatives or volunteers) to share one reason from their list. Each person is to suggest a different reason. TIP: The facilitator should remind participants to be succinct, as it can be tempting for participants to start telling lengthy personal stories to illustrate their reason.

The facilitator writes down the reasons on the sticky notes and pins/sticks the notes on the board/wall. Online version: The facilitator types the reasons on their shared screen – e.g. on the interactive whiteboard.

Step 4

Once most of the reasons are recorded, the group can cluster the project risks around themes, or rank them based on likelihood. Online version: The facilitator will use the online mind mapping tool / virtual whiteboard to cluster the project risks around themes / rank them based on likelihood, based on the participants suggestions.

Step 5

The above (ranked/clustered) visualisation of the project risks is shared with the group (e.g. by taking a picture of the pinboard/wall and sending it to participants), to inform their project planning and to refer back to during future project meetings. Online version: The facilitator can take a screenshot of the virtual mind map/whiteboard, or exporting the PDF file from the online platform and send it to participants.

An optional, additional step is to facilitate a discussion around the clustered themes, and to ask participants for suggestions on how these challenges can be mitigated. We suggest providing participants with a short break and starting such a discussion as a new exercise, as they will need to be energised to think creatively about solutions.

  • It is key for the facilitator to encourage as many participants as possible to share the risks they have identified. One of the benefits of the exercise is the opportunity it offers project stakeholders to feel heard, and to become aware of others’ concerns.
  • The time required will depend on the size of the team and the scope of the project being discussed. This is not an exercise that should be rushed, however, and it typically takes an hour or more.
  • To ensure the discussion remains focused, the facilitator can limit the number of project roadblocks being discussed. For example, they can ask each member to list to more than 3-5 concerns individually, and then choose only 1 to share, and eventually list the top 10 project risks that the group feels or most likely or that will have the highest impact on the project.

The premortem exercise source is not known, but it is related to the Innovation Game “Remember the Future,” designed by Luke Hohmann.

This exercise summary draws from the practical experience of the database contributors, as well as the following resources:



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