Premortem Analysis


The Premortem Analysis is a simple way to begin an intelligence analysis project. This is a brainstorming technique that may be effective when you’re asked to give a briefing on very short-term basis with limited information and allows you to question the assumptions underpinning your analysis.

The below information is based on steps originally outlined by Beebe & Pherson (2015), in their book Cases in Intelligence Analysis; Structured Analytic Techniques in Action.

Process of Premortem Analysis

The premortem analysis involves several key steps:

  1. Develop as many “gut” hypotheses as you feel necessary
  2. Choose one of these hypotheses as the one you feel is most correct
  3. Imagine that down the road, your analysis turned out to be wrong
  4. Determine what would need to change (from your view of the situation now) in order for your analysis to be wrong
  5. Examine the evidence underpinning these critical assumptions closely. Are they supported by the evidence? Can other information be obtained to help remove any from consideration?

This process is similar to Analysis of Competing Hypothesis (ACH; Heurer, 1999), but the difference is that while ACH requires you to begin with a comprehensive brainstorm, a Premortem is focused on what your gut-feeling is. This increases the chance that bias will creep into the process, but also allows the analysis to be produced quicker. To mitigate this, use of wargaming or multiple analysts playing devil’s advocate may allow more perspectives to be introduced.

Exploring the quality of the evidence and the sources will also help to bolster your analysis. If all of your evidence comes from the open source news media CNN or Russia Today, you may see two sides of the same biased coin.

Tools like the Sleipnir Matrix for Organized Crime (RCMP, 2000) and Validity and Reliability Charts (UNODC, 2011) can help you to better evaluate your sources and ensure that conclusions are based in the evidence.

Additionally, examining the potential for deception, for contradictory evidence, or other analytic pitfalls will help to avoid a mistaken analysis.


Beebe, S.M. & Pherson, R.H. (2015) Cases in Intelligence Analysis: Structured Analytic Techniques in Action. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press.

Heurer , R.J. (1999) Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. Center for the Study of Intelligence: Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved on August 24, 2016 from

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). (2000). SLEIPNIR: The Long Matrix for Organized Crime, An Analytical Technique for Determining Relative Levels of Threat Posed by Organized Crime Groups. Criminal Analysis Branch, Criminal Intelligence Directorate, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Ottawa, ON.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). (2011) Criminal Intelligence: A Manual for Analysts. New York, NY: United Nations. Retrieved on August 25, 2016 from

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Premortem Analysis," retrieved on December 9, 2022 from

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