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Before You Start, Figure Out How Your New Project Could Die

By   /  August 21, 2017  /  1 Comment

Once something is dead, a post-mortem analysis can tell you why it didn’t make it. A Pre-Mortem Analysis can tell you why a project might fail, so you can adjust before you start, and hopefully save your project from a gruesome fate.

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Sure, you can learn from your mistakes. But it will be too late to recoup sunk capital, time and possibly relationships that suffer from the failure. And what you might learn is that if you’d gone into the project in a little different way, the project might not have died an ugly death. So why not look at your new idea as if it’s already dead, and come up with all the reasons it could have died?

The Harvard Business Review calls this “premortem analysis.” It’s a process of looking at all the factors that can wreck your project. Using it, you can anticipate risks, fine tune the plan and build in sufficient contingencies. Business advisers can facilitate this process or business owners/project leaders can do it within their groups.

If your feasibility planning regularly suffers from over-optimism or key leaders that are over-invested in success (at all costs!), then the project premortem is an essential step in the planning process. Here is a list of key steps to complete the project premortem:

• Gather key projects members and stakeholders that have already been briefed on the anticipated project goals.
• Make the announcement “the project has failed”.
• Team members must start with the brainstorm first (don’t try to problem solve).
Ask participants to list 2-3 the things that caused the failure. Ideally, get people to develop their list independently without group conversation. Create space for all team members to get their perspective into the process.
• Team leaders and/or the group reviews the premortem symptoms and ranks the highest priority items.
• Look for ways to strengthen the project plan.

Farming is a risky business and certain farms are challenged to retain profits. At any point in the business planning process it is OK to ask, “is there more evidence pointing to project failure compared to success? Can this be a viable project?”

The pre-mortem perspective will bring your farm planning to a higher level. Forcing projects to fail on paper will improve a manager’s ability to make them work in real life.

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About the author

Mark Cannella is a farm business management specialist for University of Vermont Extension. He has been working in the field of agriculture in VT for over 10 years. He has managed farm operations in vegetable production, maple sugaring and agricultural education. His current focus is the management and delivery of farm business planning programs, business management trainings and farm economic research. Mark contributes to programs that serve a diverse audience of farm producers raising different products at different scales. His areas of expertise are farm financial analysis, farm business planning, project/program management and applied food systems research.

1 Comment

  1. Gene Schriefer says:

    Interesting, a little different twist on the DuPont SWOT analysis.

    Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunity and Threats

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