After Action Review (AAR) Process

Learning From Your Actions Sooner Rather Than Later

Useful in business, as well as emergency situations.

© iStockphoto

A typical project review is done "post mortem" – after the fact, and well past any opportunity to change the outcome.

You finish a project, and then you study it to determine what happened. From there, you decide which processes to keep and what you'll do differently next time.

That may help the next project – but it's too late for the project you've just finished: you may have use too much time and too many resources in the project being reviewed, and you could have avoided some of this if you'd done a review part of the way through.

Wouldn't it be better to evaluate along the way – so that you can capture lessons learned after each milestone, and improve performance immediately?

Organizations of all types, across all industries, could benefit from an ongoing review process. The After Action Review (AAR) process was developed by the military as a way for everyone to learn quickly from soldiers' experiences in the field.

With this system, critical lessons and knowledge are transferred immediately to get the most benefit. The "field unit" has an opportunity to talk about what happened, and other teams can then use this experience right away. In this way, the performance of the whole organization improves in a timely manner.

Benefits of an AAR

AARs provide an opportunity to assess what happened and why. They are learning-focused discussions that are designed to help the team and the organization's leaders discover what to do differently. For example, when conducting organization-wide training, you might complete an AAR after the first training session to analyze what to do better in the next session. Or, if you're changing your manufacturing process, you could do an AAR after completing the first 100 units, instead of finishing the entire run.

Depending on the nature and size of a project, you may actually do the AAR after completion. The common factor is applying the AAR process to all recurring, or repeating, events and activities, as well as those that pose a challenge. The AAR approach supports a continuous learning culture – and the desire to find and use best practices and innovative approaches.

It's important to note that AARs aren't limited just to large or formal projects. You can use them after staff meetings or regular operational functions, like month-end accounting. Also, when a safety incident occurs, an AAR can reveal important lessons.

An added benefit of the After Action Review process is...

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