Re-establishing trust and confidence between supplier and client

As the European experts in After Action Review we help businesses introduce AAR into their culture through our stepped development programme, and we also lead AARs for one off events where an external AAR Conductor is required to bring rigour and impartially to the learning process. Below is a fully anonymised account that shows one application of the AAR approach.

Background

David was absolutely sincere when he told his new clients at CAA Ltd* that this was a relatively simple piece of work and that his team had recent experience of doing exactly this type of project for a similar sized company. In his mind the project to transition 1000 email accounts from the old IT provider to his company’s IT domain would be seamless and be a perfect demonstration of why his team had won the contract to run the IT Services for CAA Ltd.

Unfortunately, he had been overly optimistic about the way in which IT services at CAA Ltd were managed, the state of their existing IT infrastructure and unaware of the budget restraints that would restrict the numbers of Contractors he could employ at Stanwell Technical Services (STS)* to make it happen.

The project was hit by early delays caused by these restrictions in Contractor numbers, and decision making about crucial issues was significantly hampered as the 6 different divisions of CAA Ltd saw themselves as clients in their own right and each expected to have their own historical requirements fully accommodated by David’s’ team. What, in retrospect, were clear red flags during the testing and discovery phase were not identified by anyone so whilst the actual “migration” weekend’s work went very smoothly and all 1000 PCs and Laptops were reconfigured, on Monday morning large numbers of the client’s 1000 staff were not able to access their emails or files and there was significant disruption to the client’s operations.

What might you do if you were in David’s shoes? When a project goes wrong to this extent? His professional reputation was clearly at risk and the relationship with CAA Ltd had become so fragile that every interaction was fraught with difficulty and the low level of trust led to increasing demands for reassurance and results. Obviously, this was impacting on STS’s bottom line as costs increased.

David’s’ response included arranging an After Action Review. The aim was to allow all participants to air their concerns and increase understanding of their shared experiences and ensure learning was captured and taken forward to the next wave of planned projects at CAA Ltd. This decision to set up a full AAR reflected David’s’ understanding of the power of AAR to help all see the part they can play to improve matters. It is a courageous decision where there is considerable tension and many others would avoid having an open and honest review of what happened. Yet it was exactly what was needed as trust began to be restored as soon as the AAR was called, as well as during it, as participants listened to the many differences between them and the impact of these differences had on the outcomes they were all after.

During the response to the Monday morning problems with logging on at CAA Ltd. matters had been made worse by the way in which the incident was handled. As the STS IT engineers worked to resolve the issues over the coming days, the Incident Response Team failed to win the trust of the IT leads at CAA Ltd. During the AAR, we learnt that the people in the 6 parts of CAA ltd had different expectations of how this incident would be managed. The CAA Ltd IT leads also had varying degrees of experience of managing IT incidents, which influenced how they behaved in response to the incident. Some remained calm and worked efficiently with STS IT engineers and some didn’t and expected STS to provide on-the-ground leadership. STS acknowledged its communication failings during the unfolding incident and an important outcome of the AAR was a commitment to both STS and CAA ltd to undertake IT Incident Response training together to ensure an aligned response in future.

Result

The participants in the AAR from STS experienced some discomfort in listening to their clients’ experience of their service, yet it means they are much better prepared to work effectively with CAA Ltd through the next phases of work. The iTS AAR Conductor ensured all participants in the AAR contributed to mapping the specific actions arising as a result of the learning during the AAR, so responsibility for creating a better working relationship doesn’t just rest with David. The greatest learning for David was that efforts must be made to ensure expectations between the CAA Ltd leads and STS are aligned and actively managed from the outset.

We hope that next time David and his team don’t wait until something goes wrong to hold an AAR, and instead do them regularly through all of their projects and stay agile and responsive to the changing circumstances.

*Not the real name

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