Pre-Mortem

Punita RiceAcademia, Career3 Comments

What is a Pre-Mortem?

What is a Pre-Mortem?

A pre-mortem is a strategy used in the business world in which someone, typically a manager, imagines a program or project has failed, and then works backward to determine what potentially could lead to the failure of the project or organization. This approach then allows him or her to work backwards to prevent the problem from occurring, by implementing a proactive solution, or to develop a backup plan in case the problem is unavoidable.

I used this strategy in context of my own research, imagining that my proposed intervention — a study on how teachers’ lack of cultural proficiency related to Indian American students might impact the students themselves — has failed. My approach was modeled on Riskology’s Pre-Mortem Strategy. By the way, I actually found this activity to be really valuable in thinking through how I would address some realistic challenges and risks. Read on for more.

Study on How Teachers’ Lack of Cultural Proficiency Related to Indian-American Students Impacts the Students: A Pre-Mortem

Problem of Practice

There is a lack of research on Indian American students, and consequently a lack of teacher cultural proficiency related to Indian American students’ culture. Researcher hypothesizes that teachers’ lack of cultural competence related to Indian American students has negative impacts on how supported they feel. Strong teachers are an essential factor in improved student outcomes (Neild, 2009). Further, As Balfanz, Legters, and Byrne (2012) point out, inexperienced or new teachers can present challenges for high minority population schools; it is possible that this may also impact Indian American students, who may often minorities in their school environments. It is reasonable to imagine that a lack of competence, which impacts teacher quality and effectiveness, would have negative impacts on Indian American students.

Proposed Intervention

A large-scale study to contribute to the current dearth in the literature on Indian American students, in order to establish how teachers’ lack of cultural competence related to Indian American students impacts Indian American students.

Proposed Intervention

Pre-Mortem: If Intervention Fails

Any of the following problems could cause my intervention to fail, or be halted. Working backwards from these problems will allow me to imagine possible proactive measures I might take now (or reactive measures I might take after the fact) to prevent or correct the problem.

Pre-Mortem

Possible Problems or Obstacles to Intervention

  • Indian American adults might not want to participate
  • Indian American adults might not remember their experiences as students
  • I might be unable to find a group to sample
  • I might not get a big enough sample size
  • My recruiting efforts might fail
  • I might be unable to put together a valid/reliable survey instrument
  • The power could go out
  • I may not be able to analyze my findings
  • I might not get approval for my survey instrument
  • My adviser could leave
  • I might be unable to defend the reliability/validity of my instrument
  • Nobody might care about the findings
  • My findings might not reveal what I expect
  • I might not feel well enough to work on key tasks in the Spring
  • I might not be able to conduct the research
  • My internet could go out
  • There might be a delay to getting my work done due to personal factors
  • Professors may not be able (or willing) to align coursework with my particular intervention
  • My committee could disband

Of the problems I was able to come up with (above), ten realistic problems stood out as mission critical, and perhaps more importantly, within my control to address. These problems are shared next.

Considering Risks: Top 10 Problems Critical to Intervention

Risk Ahead: 10 Problems Critical to Intervention

  1. Indian American adults might not remember their experiences as students
  2. I might be unable to find a group to sample
  3. I might be unable to get a large enough sample size
  4. My recruiting efforts might fail
  5. I may not be able to analyze my findings
  6. I might be unable to defend the reliability/validity of my instrument
  7. My findings might not reveal what I expect
  8. I might not feel well enough to work on key tasks in the Spring
  9. There might be a delay to getting my work done due to personal factors
  10. My professors may not be able to align coursework with my particular intervention

These problems could be responsible for preventing or stopping the intervention. Thus, imagining that one of them did allows me to imagine how this could have been prevented, or circumvented. This is explored next.

Possible Solutions to 10 Problems Critical to Intervention

Success or Failure Depends on Addressing Challenges

Problem 1: Indian American adults might not remember their experiences as students

Backup Plan: Come up with an approach for surfacing Indian American adults’ experiences, or interview parents of current students about their children’s experiences (since interviewing children themselves would present extreme bureaucratic restrictions and challenges) instead.

Problem 2: I might be unable to find a group to sample

Proactive Solution: Begin brainstorming possible sampling populations now, and develop an action plan for recruiting participants.

Problem 3: I might be unable to get a large enough sample size

Proactive Solution: Develop an action plan for how to maximize reach and scope of research; compile list of Indian American resources, forums, events, expos, and groups that might be able to disseminate the call for participants

Problem 4: My recruiting efforts might fail

Proactive Solution: Reach out to individual Indian American people who might be able to connect me with potential participants

Problem 5: I may not be able to analyze my findings

Proactive Solution: Improve data analysis skills to maximize my likelihood of making the most of my findings and analyzing them as thoroughly as possible

Problem 6: I might be unable to defend the reliability/validity of my instrument

Proactive Solution: Work with advisor and committee to determine and establish the validity and reliability of my survey instrument

Problem 7: My findings might not reveal what I expect

Backup Plan: Report the findings and explore the implications in my discussion.

Problem 8: I might not feel well enough to work on key tasks in the Spring

Proactive Solution: Since I know my estimated delivery due date, I should work with professors in advance of my delivery date to make arrangements for ensuring my work can be submitted in a timely manner.

Problem 9: There might be a delay to getting my work done due to personal factors

Proactive Solution: Keep open lines of communication with my dissertation committee and professors about factors that will present obstacles in the Spring.

Problem 10: Professors may not be able (or willing) to align coursework with my intervention

Proactive Solution: Touch base with professors early and often in order to make it work. Keep lines of communication open through semester.
Backup Plan: Connect with advisor if facing challenges.

[expand title=”References from this post”]

Balfanz, R., Legters, N., Byrne, V. (2012). What the challenge of Algebra for all has to say about implementing the Common Core – A statistical portrait of Algebra I in thirteen large urban school districts. Baltimore, MD: Center for Social Organization of Schools. Retrieved from http://www.tdschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Challenge-of-Algebra-for-All.pdf

Neild, R. (2009). Falling off track during the transition to high school: What we know and what can be done. Future of Children, 19(1):53-76. Retrieved at: http://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/docs/19_01_04.pdf

Tervooren, T. The pre-mortem: A simple technique to save any project from failure. Retrieved from http://riskology.co/pre-mortem-technique/

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3 Comments on “Pre-Mortem”

    1. Hi Tyler,
      Thanks for sharing your work over at Riskology! It was immensely helpful in thinking through how my research could fail, and I still find myself referring to this approach when thinking through different approaches to implementing components of my research now. And thanks for visiting here!

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