What is a murder board?

A murder board is an arranged exercise designed to critically expose risks in a future project or event.

The term murder board has its origins in the military in which context it was applied to assist in exam preparation and subsequently to prevent mistakes arising from poor consideration of underlying technical issues.

Within the business environment murder boards are used in Project Management, Program Management, business start-ups, event management and change management endeavours.

The aim of a murder board is to identify potential issues with a future project prior to commencement. This assists the project manager in understanding the key challenges which may destroy (murder) the project.

The approach of the murder board is to withholding holding judgement identify all the ways why the project will fail.  The key is to be as critical and specific as possible in identifying as many possible threats to the project.  It is important to note that the aim of the Murder board session is not to defend the project, but to try to destroy it.  As a result, at the end of the session you should be left with all the reasons why this project won’t work.

There is huge value at this point especially if undertaken prior to commencing the project as you may realise that the challenges are much larger than anticipated and some may not be able to be resolved, leaving the project with a high-level of residual risk.

In Project Management murder boards should be as stated, used early and often.  I do find however they are not very commonly used and upon consideration it seems to many as counter intuitive; why would we want to destroy the project before we have started?

My reply is the same; well you don’t want to kill the project half way through, so let’s use this exercise to prevent that happening.  A murder board isn’t aimed at stopping things happening, only stopping the wrong things happening.

Reaching this point is important as you can make more informed decisions with regards to your options:

  • Do we still undertake the project?
  • Do we select alternative?
  • Do we kill the project and deploy our resources elsewhere?

In my contention, you are in much better position to make these decisions prior to starting the project, as the more invested you are in the project, the harder it is to pull the pin.

The article titled shooting down the plane provides a great walkthrough on the application of this in a project management environment. https://scopetraining.com.au/project-management/shooting-down-the-plane/

Other uses

Presentations

Let’s start with the original, as explained it was developed by the military, what I didn’t specify was how it was applied.  The murder board was used to assist someone with oral presentations, the session would involve a candidate providing a presentation with the crowd tasked with providing an uncomfortable environment, asking tricky questions, ridiculing, failing to pay attention all in the hope of creating a climate far worse than the norm.  In essence this prepared the presenter and gave the confidence that the real test although associated with real implications would be nowhere near as tough as the session just faced.

With that in mind a murder board can be an effective tool in preparing for a presentation.  Public session is apparently more feared than death, so the term is quite apt.  Perhaps for a session you are feeling unsure of the audiences’ responses, questions etc.  engage a group to be a bad rent a crowd.  This will basically prepare you for anything the real audience can throw at you.

Sales

Whether it be actual selling; such as a product or service to an individual or business, or internal selling; for example, a new initiative you want management support, the murder board technique can be successfully applied.  In this context, it works by exposing all the reasons why the “customer” will say no, or questions and issues they may pose.

Start by stating the solution and asking the questions of the group; what are all the reasons you could have to say no?  What issues could you see? What are the limitations in accepting this proposal right now?  Through this analysis you can develop well-structured responses and counter arguments, or even better bring them up before they are raised along with a solution.

Event Management

Event management is effectively project management with a few key differences; the major being that the deliverable is generally consumed during the process and in many cases, that is an ‘experience’.  As such the risks are magnified, as you can’t fix the defects after practical completion like you can with a building.

The application of a murder board to the event enables the team to bring all of the risks into consideration and may highlight whether or not the event is even feasible.  It also promotes divergent thinking in the development of solutions and contingencies; making plan b in case x happens.

Think of any other practical uses; share them below.

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