How Often Are You Using After Action Review?

BY Kathy Crosett
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It’s easy to turn into an adrenaline junkie at work these days. As a manager or leader, you’re rushing from one project to the next. And, you’re driving your team members to cross the finish line on time. The constant state of excitement can keep the energy level high. But, what's lost in this process is the time needed for reflection and analysis of what was learned.

Few projects go exactly as planned. There are cost overruns. There are mistakes that require you to backtrack. There are people who have meltdowns for no apparent reason or sometimes for good reason (especially if you ask them to work late and miss an important personal commitment).

At RapidStart Leadership, Ken Downer talks about the concept of After Action Review (AAR). The AAR is a process that involves discussing what went right and wrong during a project. According to Downer, the U.S. Army used this tactic to improve operations in the 1970s.

Regardless of what you call it, you should take the time to process, discuss and document what you learned during a product launch or any other significant event. Doing so will help you improve productivity in the future.

To make the most of an AAR, Downer suggests assembling key participants soon after the big event ends. If it’s a huge project with several steps, you might want to hold meetings after each key objective is reached. For example, once the preliminary testing on a new product is complete, talk about how the process went. Review the problems that were encountered and how you can avoid some of them in the future.  Decide whether inserting an extra quality control measure at this point would reduce some of the errors found in preliminary testing.

Your AARs should include the team members who played important roles in getting a project completed. If applicable, Downer encourages business leaders to invite the customer to participate on your AAR. When you’ve delivered a custom product or service to a client, they should be able to talk frankly, in a group setting. Everyone at the table should review what went well, what didn’t and whether the mission or goal was achieved.

The most important outcome of this effort is change. Downer reminds us that, “The lesson is not truly learned until the behavior changes.