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After Action Reviews

Peter Senge has written that After Action Reviews (AAR), the subject of today’s Tuesday Reading, are “one of the most successful organizational learning methods yet devised.”  

AARs were designed by the Army as a tool to be used after a project or major activity has been completed.  It allows employees and leaders to learn what happened and why.  It’s a discussion that involves everyone involved in the work – from the most senior to the most junior – and seeks to understand what happened, why what happened did happen, and to learn from the experience.  The key is openness and honesty, everyone is encouraged to speak frankly.  (In military parlance, the symbols of rank are left out of the room.)  

  • It does not judge success or failure.
  • It attempts to discover why things happened.
  • It focuses directly on the tasks and goals that were to be accomplished.
  • It encourages everyone to surface important lessons in the discussion.

Conducting an AAR is relatively simple with only four steps:

  1. What was planned?  This suggests that your goal/objective needs to have been written down in the beginning.
  2. What really happened?
  3. What did you learn?  What caused your results?
  4. What will you do to sustain or improve?  What will you do to do better next time?

So many teams have found such a review to be valuable at the end of their projects that I urge you to consider making it a regular practice.

In a newsletter I read recently, Patricia Wheeler, executive coach and managing partner of The Levin Group, suggested that we each use the AAR for our individual year-end review.  After all, it is the end of one year and the beginning of the next year.  She points out that all to often, we do not sit down and have a blunt review of ourselves.  Should you choose to do this, Wheeler suggests that you ask three questions drawn from the review?

  1. What did you set out to do this year?  Did you set specific goals for the year?  What did you plan to accomplish?
  2. What did you actually do this year?  If you set targets, did you meet them?  What was the result?
  3. What did you learn in the past year?  How will you incorporate what you learned in your planning for 2014?  What specific targets and goals do you anticipate will be most important for you to achieve in 2014?

Don’t miss this opportunity to take time and reflect on the year that has just ended and prepare for the coming year.

…. jim