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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

About to start a project - do you use prospective hindsight

One of the ideas, that I worked on was a variant of that well known practice within knowledge management of carrying out an after action review to gather the lessons and knowledge from every major project. The area that I looked at was going to be a before action review. The aim was two fold - one was to gather some of the participants  thoughts on the project and to tap in to their tacit knowledge. The other was to stop projects failing which they tend to do at regular intervals. I wanted people to bring their experiences to the table and to contribute any reservations or benefits before the team set off down the road so to speak.

There is an interesting article within the Harvard Business Review for September 2007 which highlights work done in the 1980's by Mitchell, Russo et al which discovered that 'prospective hindsight - imagining an event that has already happened increases the reasons for future outcomes by up to 30%. 

Gary Klein has utilised this research to suggest a pre-mortem approach to projects, which is used to identify risks - and asks team members to imagine that the project has failed spectacularly.  

Project members then write down independently every reason that they can think for the failure. Then team members are asked to read one item from their list (bit surprising this one as people depending on the culture of the firm will probably read out the one that is the least politically sensitive). 

It was interesting to read how this had been used to tap into a participants tacit knowledge and the groups social network to solve a potential project stopping issue.

It is interesting that Klein concludes as I did in my proposal - in that project team members then feel valued for their intelligence, experience and that other team members can learn valuable lessons from them. 

Also by examining problems at the start it also acclimatises people to look for early signs of trouble in the project and hopefully avoid the need for a painful after action review where people are too busy avoiding blame that useful knowledge doesn't get discovered and used for the benefit of the organisation.

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