One of the biggest complaints new product executives have is projects that won’t die. Everyone knows the project is going to fail. Yet it is allowed to drag on.
Or even worse, Zombie projects. The ones that get killed and still come back from the dead to suck up more resources.
Once these projects have finally been sent to their final resting place, the obvious question is what are they doing in terms of conducting post-mortems to learn from these mistakes?
Funny thing is that when you ask that, you get responses like:
- “It’s a good idea in theory… but we’re just too busy.”
- “It’s on our checklist, but we’re usually in such a hurry to move on to the next project”
- “I wish we had time for that.”
- We used to do that, but no one ever followed up on the learnings anyway.
Conducting an After-Action Review
The After-Action Review, a term I much prefer to Post-Mortem, is a quick way for the team to reflect on what went right and what went wrong during the project. And most importantly, a way for them to suggest improvements in the way the organization works so that future projects will run better.
To conduct an AAR, the team meets after the gate review and answers these 6 questions:
- What did our plan say we were supposed to accomplish? In the early stages, that includes any critical technical and commercial decisions and the learning necessary to make them.
- What did we actually accomplish?
- What went well?
- What did not go well and why?
- How should we do it differently in the future?
- What opportunities are there coming up in this project and in others that might benefit from that?
Any good project manager, with a continuous improvement ethos, can lead an AAR. Alternatively, you can utilize a skilled facilitator that wasn’t part of the project and with no reporting relationship to any of the team members.
If you want to jumpstart your AAR process, you can download our free Learning Accelerator Review. To get it, simply click the blue button below.
The Biggest Sin – Ignoring the AARs Your Team Does
If you really want to demotivate your people, ask them to conduct AARs, and then put their recommendations on the shelf.
Instead, consider holding a monthly or Quarterly NPD Improvement Team Meeting led by your NPD process owner. The goal of that meeting is the continuous improvement of the NPD system (Culture, Process, and Systems). The agenda should always include AAR recommendations from the last period.
It’s also a good idea to send all team members an update afterward so they know what action was taken as a result of their recommendations. There’s nothing like a feedback loop to keep people participating.
Not every project and every gate requires an AAR
Small projects with very little risk probably only need an AAR after the product is launched. Super small projects don’t need one at all. But a complex new product development project with significant investment can even benefit from an AAR after every single stage. Figure out what makes sense for your organization and make sure product managers understand their responsibilities with respect to these reviews.
AARs are not After Launch Reviews
AARs should be conducted right after the gate review. After Launch Reviews look a lot like AARs but have a very different purpose and are conducted at periodic intervals after the launch. Its purpose is to make sure the necessary actions are being taken for the product to meet its sales potential.
Making Time for AARs
Why do so many people claim they don’t have time to learn from their successes and mistakes with the use of an AAR?
The number one reason is letting too many projects into execution at the same time. It’s counterintuitive, but limit the number of projects in WIP at any given time and not only will you have time to do good AARs, but you’ll also get more projects across the finish line and deliver far more new product revenue. If you’re interested in finding out how to optimize your NPD WIP, we also offer a free tool to help you identify and manage within your ideal resource bandwidth.