A pre-mortem is a powerful business technique where you take a leap into a future where your project has failed and you discuss where it went wrong. It helps teams identify potential issues and develop solutions before the project has launched. It involves critical thinking and some degree of creativity. But it can also generate some insights that in extreme cases can stop you from working on your project any further. Using ChatGPT for pre-mortems is an very low cost method of doing this without the need to convene any management meetings
Using ChatGPT for Pre-mortems
ChatGPT-4, the latest iteration (as of April 2023) of OpenAI’s powerful language model, is an invaluable business asset that can help reduce project management disasters. By using the right prompts, project teams can simulate failures before a project has started and use the analysis to identify and proactively mitigate potential risks. This method not only saves time and resources but also fosters a wider business culture of proactive problem solving.
Example Pre-mortem Prompt 1 – Product launch
“Assume that our new product launch has been a failure. The product was designed to do x and we developed it because we thought it would sell profitably in the y market. List the top 5 reasons why this might have occurred and suggest ways to address each of these issues.”
Why this works: This prompt encourages ChatGPT-4 to analyze and generate potential reasons for failure, helping the team identify potential risks and their corresponding solutions. By addressing the top 5 reasons, the model provides a focused analysis, ensuring that the most critical aspects are considered. Additionally, the prompt asks for ways to address each issue, allowing teams to develop preemptive strategies for success.
You can also ask ChatGPT to rank the reasons for failure in terms of likelihood, cost impact and so on. Use your description of what the product does to give ChatGPT as much background information as you can. Ask it follow up questions too.
Example Pre-mortem Prompt 2 – Marketing campaign
Prompt: “Imagine our marketing campaign for our new product x failed to achieve the goals we set in terms of sales and customer engagement. Our marketing campaign consisted of social media promotion, geo-targeted Google Ads and local mailshots. Describe four possible flaws in our campaign strategy and provide recommendations on how to improve each of them.”
Why it works: This prompt targets a specific area of the project, the marketing campaign, and directs ChatGPT-4 to evaluate potential shortcomings. Asking for a specific number of possible flaws helps ChatGPT to provide ran analysis that will have four separate elements which you can then rank. The specific request for recommendations for improvement will accelerate the process of finding solutions and help ideation.
Both these examples focus on product launches which is an important business process but there are many other areas where pre-mortems are helpful. Let’s look at one about recruitment.
Example Pre-mortem 3 – Recruitment
Prompt: “Our recent hiring process resulted in a high employee turnover rate within the first six months. Identify four factors that might have contributed to this outcome and suggest improvements for each factor in our hiring process.”
Why it works: This prompt focuses in on the hiring process and its potential impact on employee retention. By asking ChatGPT-4 to explore four contributing factors, the model is encouraged to delve into various aspects of the hiring process that might have led to a high turnover rate. This comprehensive examination helps the HR team pinpoint areas in need of improvement. By requesting suggestions for each factor, the team can develop a more effective hiring strategy to ensure they attract and retain the right talent.
The cost of doing pre-mortems
A typical business pre-mortem involves a meeting of your project team and a lot of discussion which takes time and therefore costs money. Of course, it can also save a lot of money down the line if it results in actionable outcomes that boost the chances of the project’s success. Using ChatGPT and similar tools to do a pre-mortem takes a few minutes and whilst not necessarily as effective as a full-blown pre-mortem management meeting, it can deliver results extremely cheaply. These results may deliver actionable outcomes on their own but just as significantly, they can be used as a business accelerant by acting as briefing notes for your own pre-mortem. Don’t forget too that you can ask ChatGPT to regenerate its response to come up with more ideas and that you can ask it to explain more about any aspects of its answers.
By integrating ChatGPT-4 into pre-mortem exercises, businesses can unlock innovative and efficient ways to identify and address potential project failures for negligible cost. By formulating targeted and focused prompts, teams can extract valuable and actionable insights from the AI, which enables them to make better decisions and reduce implementation risks.
Pre-mortem action point
Managers should do pre-mortems using AI tools like ChatGPT-4 as a matter of habit. Using ChatGPT for pre-mortems should be as habitualised as using Google for search used to be.