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This article is inspired from our Videocast collection in collaboration with Olivier Sibony, author, strategic decision-making expert and member of the CrossKnowledge Faculty!

When working on a project as a team, the decisions we make before launch often have a big impact on the success or failure of the initiative. One of the prerequisite for success is a high level of collaboration between team members (for more on this topic, check out our infographic on team collaboration!). However, that isn’t enough. Thorough planning and anticipation will get you and your team a long way. Here are some techniques to increase the odds of success before launching a new project.

1. Using the “war-gaming” technique to predict how your competition will react to your plans

When creating a plan, whether it is a marketing game plan, a sales strategy or a product launch, it’s key to take into account how the competition will react, and to be able to put yourself in their shoes. It’s important to escape the trap that some researchers call “competitor neglect”, which is to plan as if the world didn’t include competitors. An effective way to avoid this trap is to use the war-gaming technique. It consists of having an exercise when you divide your team into several groups, with one group playing the role of the competitor. Its job will be answer the question: “If we are the competitor and we see this plan unfolding, what will we do?” It’s a very simple way to put competition back into the equation when having a strategic discussion, and to make sure that your plan includes potential threats caused by your competitors.

2. Overcoming the planning fallacy

When creating forecasts before launching new projects, we tend to be too optimistic about our ability to execute our plans quickly and effectively. This is called the planning fallacy. Whenever we plan something, we tend to assume that everything will go right when in fact, this almost never happens! To overcome the planning fallacy, try using the outside view. Of course, it’s important to focus on delivering the project at hand; but the people working on it will have an inside view by design. The outside view is saying: “let’s compare this project to all other similar projects that we rolled out. Out of those, how many went over budget? How many were delivered late?” This attitude will make projects stakeholders realize that in all logic, their project might also be late or over budget. When we only have the inside view, it’s tempting to think of our project as the exception. Adopting the outside view and looking at what traditionally goes wrong in similar projects will actually help you develop a better forecast.

3. Adopting the pre-mortem technique rather than the post-mortem

At the end of a failed project, it’s common to hear from co-workers that it was doomed from the start for a variety of reasons they can state quite clearly. What can be done to avoid this frustration? The pre-mortem is a technique invented by psychologist Gary Klein. It exploits the notion that while we usually find it easy to explain what happened in the past, we are not that good at imagining or forecasting the future.
How does it work? Before making an important decision, try to imagine that you are in the future and this decision has turned out to be a complete disaster. This necessitates a perspective shift: you are not looking for the reasons why it could go wrong in the future, but listing the reasons why it actually went wrong when looking back. This trick tends to make us more creative, since we are much better at explaining the past than we are at imagining the future. This process will reveal a lot about what could go wrong and cast some light on things that people may not have been willing to voice or even been able to see. With that evidence, with these ideas, you may decide that these are normal risks that you do want to take, or you may decide that the project is in fact too risky. In the end, doing a pre-mortem might be the best way to avoid the post-mortem after the project failed.