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How to Catch a Black Swan: Measuring the Benefits of the Premortem Technique for Risk Identification Open Access

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Risk identification is the most important step in the risk management process because risks that are unidentified are implicitly assumed and unmanaged. Projects face the challenge of increasing complexity and uncertainty. Risk management has taken advantage of powerful quantitative tools to analyze historical data and reports. However, these tools are not enough to identify the unprecedented, hard-to-predict, and potentially catastrophic risks called black swans. To "catch a black swan," we need to understand the capabilities and limitations of creativity-based risk identification tools. Group dynamics threaten the collaborative processes of creativity-based tools, leaving technology projects vulnerable to black swans. The premortem technique is the theoretical opposite of a postmortem. The premortem process starts by declaring that the project has failed. Premortem makes it safe for the team to be critical of each other, question assumptions, share information, study interrelationships and address risk areas that may otherwise go unaddressed. This study used several data collection and evaluation techniques (structured observation, subject surveys, and expert panel review) to study the collaborative power of the premortem technique against the time-tested brainstorming method when considering risks in a technology insertion (system upgrade) plan. The study compared the quality of the products resulting from the two techniques and found the premortem superior to brainstorming in three of the hypothesis tests. The findings are important to senior decision makers, educators, managers, and systems engineers.

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