I recently began using a decision making technique I read about and have found it so immensely useful I wanted to share it with everyone in the social game space. I am reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and although I have not finished it yet have already learned many useful decision making practices. The most significant of these is the pre-mortem.
A pre-mortem is a meeting held before a major decision where all those involved in making the decision imagine themselves six or twelve months after the decision was taken, assume it turned into a debacle, and then explore why it was a disaster. This type of meeting is very effective for many reasons
- Prompts people to raise potential problems. Many times in meetings, people are reluctant to surface issues for fear of upsetting the person championing the issue.
- Counters the over-confidence bias. Research has shown that people overestimate their chances for success, neglecting the baseline data (for example, a baseball player may think he has a 50 percent chance of getting a hit even though the top players only have at best a 35 percent chance of success). The pre-mortem forces people and companies to think about why a decision may not be successful.
- It forces you to think of all the potential problems. Many times, people over-simplify a decision because it is exciting to try new things. The pre-mortem forces people to think through all the ways it can go wrong.
- Forces you to look at key decisions a second time. As much as you try to be objective in your decision making, sometimes the decision process takes on a life of its own. A decision may sound good, then key stake-holders get behind it and all of a sudden you are preceeding down a path without having reviewed it carefully. The pre-mortem forces you to take a step back and make sure the ROI is greater than the risks.
We have only used the pre-mortem at FiveOneNine Games for big decisions, so far, but a recent incident suggests how it is a good technique for virtually any situation. We recently transferred our website’s hosting to a new vendor. The site ended up being down for almost a full business day. If we had done a pre-mortem before going forward with the transfer, I am confident someone would of said it was a debacle because the website went down for several hours. We then probably would of taken steps to avoid this unpleasant situation.
I have found that by conducting a pre-mortem, there are two huge benefits. First, you avoid rubber stamping decisions and take a hard look at whether the decision should be approved. One caveat is that you need to go into the pre-mortem with openness to reversing the decision. Second, even if you decide to continue moving forward, the pre-mortem may raise issues that help you avoid or mitigate the key risks (as in my website example above). It is always better to proceed with your eyes wide open.