How to Use a PRE-Mortem Template

In “The Power of Intuition” Gary Klein offers a great idea he calls a pre-mortem. In this post I unpack 7 benefits of a pre-mortem template for planning.


Jesus recognized the role good planning plays in life and ministry. He said, Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? (Luke 14.28) Unfortunately, lack of planning often torpedoes otherwise good ministry ideas. Scientist Gary Klein, author of The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, offers a great idea he calls a pre-mortem template. In this post I unpack 7 benefits of a pre-mortem template for planning.

Dr. Klein says that a pre-mortem template can increase the chances that our plan will succeed. In contrast to a post-mortem that we often perform after a plan fails, a pre-mortem is an exercise that teams do before they implement a plan.

By imagining that an event is over and that it failed, a pre-mortem can often surface potential problems that you can address and prepare for before you invest time and resources in an event or a plan.

Benefits of a Pre-Mortem Template

1. Fail on paper rather than in practice.

A pre-mortem template considers what might go wrong so you can plan to avoid those mistakes

2. Surface potential pitfalls in a safe environment.

Before others get overinvested in the plan, considering the pitfalls beforehand makes it less threatening for a team member to voice a concern.

3. Value your team members by soliciting their ideas and thoughts.

We all like others to feel that our voice matters. A pre-mortem reinforces that experience.

4. Help team members become more sensitive to potential problems.

By discussing potential issues beforehand, your team is more likey to see potential issues when you do roll it out.

5. Help avoid a painful post-mortem autopsy prompted by a failure.

We’d all rather avoid autopsies.

6. Surface potential problems you might have otherwise missed.

Pretended your plan has failed makes you think outside the box.

7. ???????

___________ (what would add as a seventh benefit?)

So, the next time you plan a big initiative, try a pre-mortem.


This article on a pre-mortem template originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

Charles Stone
Charles Stone is the pastor of West Park Church in Canada. Charles is passionate about the intersection of cognitive neuroscience and Biblical truth. Charles is the author of numerous articles and a handful of books, including Holy Noticing. He and his wife have three adult children and two grandchildren.