AAR, Mateys!

International Talk Like a Pirate Day already?

No, I’m talking about the wonderful project tool known as an After Action Report (AAR). What’s an AAR? Glad you asked, matey!

Essentially, an AAR is when you gather all the major players (aka, stakeholders) after an event, project or exercise and go round-robin on what went well, what went wrong and what needs to change for next time.

The conversation is candid for the betterment of the team and future projects—no fear of walking the plank here! Everyone acknowledges their mistakes and accepts ownership of fixing them.  AAR’s work so well, in fact, they’re in danger of vanishing like a ghost ship!

Wait. That doesn’t sound right.

Gather stakeholders? Yep, that’s right. Round-robin? Yep, that’s right. Honest communication? Meh, maybe. Accountability? Mmm. Ownership for fixing problems? Ah-ha! (Or ahoy, if you prefer.)

Here’s how the sail really unfurls…

At best, the AAR becomes just that. A report. Just sitting there with the poor radios (that’s a different tale) waiting on a human to do something. Anything. Please?

More commonly though, the decision is made that ABC team(s) did x, y, and z wrong and one person gets appointed to go tell them and fix all the problems.

Blimey, so much for all hands on deck! 20-some people on the project and one person (who usually has zero actual authority) is sent to Dave Jones’ locker? Ouch. Er, I mean, AARrrrr…

Moral of this story? Like many project management tools, the AAR is great when used effectively. Used ineffectively, it becomes another blame game that corrodes morale and true collaboration. (For the newbs, this is where I can help.)

“To err is human. To blame someone else is even more human.”  – Blackbeard*

*may or may not be historically accurate

Shannon Vasko is a natural-born planner with a passion for strategy and integrated communications. © MI Compass Services.

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