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Using Pre-Mortems to Set the Stage for a Successful Product Launch

Product Team
Product
Collaboration
Team Processes

17 June, 2021

Rachel Wasko
Rachel Wasko

Product Manager at Lyft

Rachel Wasko, Growth Product Manager at Lyft, swears by the pre-mortem process when developing a new product or service for her stakeholders.

Problem

What makes a great user experience? My work at Lyft involves getting drivers on the road at the times that help them earn the most. The path set for them needs to be simple and easy to understand. What is required of them? Is this requirement clear? Is the feedback loop being impeded in some way? Are they able to rely on this positive experience as something consistent, incentivizing them to return?

When working for a demographic that differs from the one you are a member of, making these connections requires lateral thinking, and only so much of this can be accomplished alone. There is an art to it; what work have you done to show that you are ready to take this product to market? Are you confident that it’s ready to go?

Some junior-level PMs may not yet know the questions that they should be asking in anticipation of a new product launch. Sure, you have a dashboard, but does it actually do what it needs to do for the end user? Have you actually clicked the button? Even if you’re lucky enough to have access to a beta group, do you know how best to use that feedback in service of the client?

Actions taken

I love pre-mortems. You get the entire team in a room to think through all of the things that could possibly fail. What are some of the efforts that could be made to avoid these pitfalls and to give us more confidence in what we’ve set out to do? Girding the product with this type of thinking makes it more resilient.

The most important part of a pre-mortem is giving people complete freedom to consider the worst-case scenario. They’re able to write down anything that comes to mind that they worry about with absolutely no judgement - “This is a safe space. Just tell it like it is.”

As the work continues, a general consensus on what the most important potential challenges ahead becomes clear. Now, the team is able to begin seeking recourse; who can help us with these action items? Once a potential roadblock is identified, people really start to dig in. Suddenly, the product is much better than it was before.

Lessons learned

  • When everybody comes together in this way, it becomes like a therapy session. These people who have been working so hard for so long have a chance to let go of the anxiety that they feel. We keep asking “Why?” together until a solution is found.
  • Pre-mortems really are a team-building exercise. It may sound cheesy, but knowing that you and your peers have these feelings in common can be comforting for people. Everybody speaks their peace, and, as we go around the room, reoccurring themes emerge. We put these common denominators together as everybody shares how they feel deep down inside. It becomes a place of vulnerability. People relate to one another over common concerns.
  • You’ve got to make it fun for people while still holding them accountable; you have to make the goal tangible for your team. Even though this process is driven by feelings and instinct, the focus should always stay on the work at hand. There has to be some sort of outcome at the end of the day.

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