Last year I had the opportunity to serve on a National Academy of Sciences committee. We were chartered to help NASA improve its innovation ecosystem, a truly awesome experience. One of my main contributions was to lead several Premortem sessions, where participants imagined a future scenario where NASA has failed completely. As always, the Premortem produced several moments of insight & honesty. It continues to be my favorite tool in the kit.
If you’re not familiar with Premortems, the objective is to build clarity and consensus about what success looks like. Although a lot of the discussion is focused on describing a hypothetical failure (making the description as stark and dystopian terms as possible), the key question in the Premortem canvas is actually “If the only thing we do is ______, that’s a win.” We don’t start with that question, but I always make sure we get to it before the Premortem is complete.
If you’d like to see how NASA used the Premortem and how they answered that question, or even if you just want to see what NASA’s senior leaders are doing to help the agency improve, check out the full National Academy committee’s report, now available as a free PDF.