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Looking Past COVID-19: What To Do When The Crisis Ends

Monday, April 6, 2020  
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We’re all looking forward to the day the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic passes. But, when it does, don’t be so quick to put these current events and the challenges they’ve created for your business and supply chain operations behind you. That advice comes from WERC Board Member Jeremy Banta, Supply Chain Program Coordinator and Professor at Columbus State Community College.

“Treat this as an opportunity to learn and to develop a plan for the next time a similar crisis occurs,” he says, pointing to his past military experience with the U.S. Army and the Ohio National Guard for some useful guidelines.

“There’s a process known as the ‘After Action Review’ or ‘AAR’ that was originally developed by the U.S. Army and is used by all four branches of the armed forces. The concept can be applied either formally or informally as a means to gather information and identify issues in order to create a plan that addresses future situations,” explains Banta.

An AAR asks participants to answer four key questions:

  1. What was supposed to happen?

  2. What actually happened?

  3. What went wrong, and why?

  4. What went right, and why?

Based on the answers to those questions, a plan can be developed. Most organizations have formal procedures and contingency plans already on the shelf, he says. Those typically fall into what he describes as measures to mitigate either casual risk (pilferage, power outage, minor accident) or catastrophic risk (fire, on-site fatality, ransomware attack). But chances are, they haven’t been looked at in a while and are likely out-of-date.

Further, “contingency plans are usually built around a one-time event; a hurricane or tornado, for example. Typically, if you’re a multi-location business and a facility in one area is impacted, you shift manufacturing or distribution to another one. Or, if your normal distributor is affected, you switch to a different supplier,” notes Banta. “The problem right now is, COVID-19 is disrupting supply chains globally, so those plans may not work.”

That’s why he recommends companies plan now to work through an AAR project once the current situation becomes more stable — like perhaps later this summer.

Specific to conducting an AAR around COVID-19 response, Banta advises that management should spearhead and guide the process, but that the information collection should be employee driven. Operations within a single facility should consider having each individual department complete an AAR; companies with multiple locations should have each facility compile their AAR findings.

“Then, company-wide, you could have a meeting — even a virtual one — with management and a few key representatives from each department or location to participate and answer questions,” he says. “The information gathered from the AARs becomes the documentation your contingency planning team uses when they develop that, say a month later.”

Additionally, the AAR process doesn’t just have to be formally deployed after a major event, adds Banta. “It could very easily become part of the daily routine as a format to follow at the end of every shift or at each weekly managers’ meeting. Make it a quick, five-minute drill that helps everyone learn from an experience. It’s not judgmental, there’s no pointing fingers or placing blame. Rather it’s capturing information and making a quick plan to improve.”

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