Use Pre-Mortem Analysis to Prevent Project Failure

When you are planning a bold farm diversification or expansion who do you want on your planning team?  An ultra-advocate….”we can do this!” or the devils-advocate… “here is something that  could really go wrong!”.  Consider the premortem analysis process. Don’t wait to complete the  postmortem debrief after the project fails. At that point it is too late. The team can learn from the mistakes but it will be too late to recoup sunk capital, time and possibly relationships that suffer from the failure.The premortem analysis takes an important look at all the factors that can wreck your project. It is a key process to anticipating these risks, fine tuning the plan and building in sufficient contingencies.. Business advisers can facilitate this process or business owners/project leaders can do it within their groups.

Feasibility planning regularly suffers from over-optimism or key leaders that are over-invested in success (at all costs!). The project premortem is an essential step in the planning process. Here is a list of key steps to complete the project premortem

  • Gather key projects members and stakeholders that have already been briefed on the anticipated project goals.
  • Make the announcement “the project has failed”.
  • Team members must  start with the brainstorm first (don’t try to problem solve). Ask participants to list 2-3 the things that caused the failure. Ideally, get people to develop their list independently without group conversation. Create space for all team members to get their perspective into the process.
  • Team leaders and/or the group reviews the premortem symptoms and ranks the highest priority items.
  • Look for ways to strengthen the project plan.

Farming is a risky business and certain farms are challenged to retain profits. At any point in the business planning process it is OK to ask, “is there more evidence pointing to project failure compared to success? Can this be a viable project?”

The premortem perspective will bring your farm planning to a higher level. Forcing projects to fail on paper will improve a manager’s ability to make them work in real life.

 

Farm Viability Network Resources

On February 17, 2017 the VT statewide farm viability business planning network members met to share current research and resources to advance farm business plans.The session included farm business benchmarks, feasibility studies and conservation easements.

The Farm to Plate Viability Indicators Task Force is collecting key benchmarks and indicators for produce, livestock, maple and other ag sectors in VT. Picture the scene, 17 business planners adding notes to a group spreadsheet and punching calculators to document business metrics used to evaluate performance and management: labor expense ratio for produce farms, gain per day for grass-fed beef finishing, debt repayment margins for robotic dairies. The task force will be publishing key benchmarks later in 2017.

Rose Wilson shared recent feasibility projects she has been working on. Right now, enterprise analysis projects for organic enterprises including grass only milk, laying hens and pork is underway. Spoiler…. these enterprise are challenged to break even at the current cost and market price levels. More studies include….

Feasibility Study for a Leased Vegetable Storage Facility, Rose Wilson This reports explores the demand and business  feasibility for a shared-use leased vegetable storage facility.

Northeast Kingdom Agricultural Transportation Feasibility Study, Rose Wilson
This report presents different freight service delivery solutions and includes cost analysis, route mapping and other business considerations.

The meeting concluded with an extended panel featuring the VT Land Trust Farmland Access Program.  A key discussion centered on  on farm labor housing and appraisal considerations relating to collateral values and credit decisions. Conservation easements continue to be an important way to meet conservation goals, facilitate farmer exit planning and provide affordable farmland access for new farm businesses.