Sometimes it can be difficult to understand if processes are working when quickly implementing change on a fast-moving project.  As soon as one task is complete, it is natural to move quickly onto the next.   After all, there are important deadlines to hit!  If deadlines are being met and things are on track, what is there to worry about?

Well, it turns out that sometimes taking a pause to assess how things are working can yield surprising insights.  A project manager can draw from these insights to run a more productive and efficient project going forward.  One method I have used on projects to continuously improve is by facilitating an after-action review.

An after-action review is a structured review of an activity to analyze what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better.  In my experience, I have brought together contributors to a certain milestone and facilitated an hour-long session to discuss the following questions:

  1. What did we expect to happen?
  2. What actually occurred?
  3. What went well and why?
  4. What can we improve upon and how?

So, what can a project manager learn and act on based on the responses to these questions?  If the first question yields responses that wildly vary, it tells the project manager that they might need to put more effort into clarifying the purpose, goals, and objectives of an activity prior to executing the tasks.  For the third question, hopefully there will be at least a couple positive responses, which can provide guidance for the project manager on the things to continue doing.  The fourth question gives people the opportunity to make suggestions for improvement that a project manager may not have recognized or thought about on their own.

As you can probably imagine, these conversations can go in many different directions, and that’s Ok!  The point of the exercise is to allow yourself and the team some time to step back from the hustle and bustle of project tasks and assess and reflect on the internal methodologies and approaches being used to accomplish them.  

In today’s virtual environment, I have found success utilizing a virtual whiteboard to facilitate these sessions.  Depending on the stakeholders or sensitivity around a topic, people can input answers anonymously or privately, sometimes resulting in more honest answers.  Additionally, the whiteboard can be exported after the meeting which makes it relatively easy to store as project documentation and enable easy access to go back and reference when needed.  With tools like this so readily available, one should seriously consider incorporating reflective exercises into ongoing projects.