How to conduct an effective After Action Review (AAR)
The point of an After Action Review is to gather a project team together to review and learn from work recently completed. Its purpose is to debate and discuss what went well and what went wrong with the outcome being to commit to any improvements identified.
So how do you run a good AAR?
1.Assign a single owner — Reviews are best done if managed consistently by a single team. In many companies the best function is the Programme Management Office (PMO). They have the skills and expertise that are best suited to conducing an effective review. They understand programme and project lifecycles and are traditionally open to hearing feedback even if that feedback is negative.
2. Get the whole team together — There’s no point doing an AAR if some people from the team are missing. Doing a review can be a sensitive exercise, but avoid running the process without all the key people present.
3. Review the project’s entire lifespan — Review the project from the very beginning. The best way to start this process is to map out the project’s milestones on a timeline. Walk through the project and discuss what went well and what could have gone better. Talk about how the project started, was resourced and how any major issues were handled. Be open to discussing thorny issues such as project failures and mis-steps.
4. Use an independent adjudicator — If you’re the project manager this is one time you shouldn’t be in control. Give the brief to someone who has done an AAR before. They don’t necessarily need to know the project in detail and their independence will help them unearth problems more easily if they are seen as being a neutral third party.
5. Do not assign blame — Avoid playing the blame game. Blame very rarely lies in one place so its best to avoid rushing to pin the blame for problems on individual teams or people. Mistakes will have been made by certain individuals but be careful how you catalogue and frame where mistakes were made. Be sensitive to how mistakes often have many masters.
6. Debate optics and facts — Sometimes perceptions are just as important as facts. Mistakes might have been made due to how people perceived an issue or problem. Be open to discuss feelings as much as tangible activities and events.
7. Summarise learnings — Catalogue what you’ve learn and what you’d like to change in future projects. Catalogue learnings into categories such as governance, ways of working and communication.
8. Commit to change — Be willing to implement changes to future projects from learnings identified during the AAR. The point of the exercise is to ensure you don’t repeat past mistakes. Any positives identified during the review should also be catalogued and shared with other teams to help improve projects across the company.
At Strategy Activist we help clients deliver effective programmes and projects. We’re also big fans of reviews. We’ve seen how they can help companies get better at delivery each time they embark on a new programme or project. To learn more about how we can help your company visit us at www.strategyactivist.com or call us on +44 7786063053.