You and your team have just completed a big project, made a sale, lost a sale, shipped a critical product on time, or shipped a truckload of off-quality product. Or perhaps you have just completed a semi-annual evacuation drill in your factory. Whether the end result was good or bad, you want to learn from it. You are committed to continuously improving your performance and that of your team. A great tool for that is the After-Action Review (AAR). You might want to make AARs a routine part of every project you undertake.
The point of routine AARs is to capture lessons learned from each project, find ways to improve future performance, implement those improvements in your own area, and transfer the lessons to other parts of your organization. You will be looking for strengths to sustain, and weaknesses to improve.
The AAR process is pretty simple:
When to do it
Do it as soon as the activity/project/event is over - while it is still fresh in everyone's mind. Do it after every key activity/project/event. You and your team should decide ahead of time which events will trigger AARs. If you run a sales organization, for example, you might decide to do an AAR after every proposal is delivered. If you run a refinery maintenance organization, you might decide to do an AAR after every unit turnaround. If you run a search firm, you might do an AAR after each search.
Whom to involve
Everyone who played a part in the activity/project/event should be part of the AAR. No leader can know what every one on the team was doing, thinking, or encountering.
How to do it
The AAR consists of asking four questions, in order:
- What was supposed to happen?
- What actually happened?
- Why did it happen the way it did?
- How can we improve next time?
You will want to follow a few easy guidelines.
- You want frank, open discussion. I find it useful to agree that everything said in the room is confidential. At the end of step 4, the team can decide how to publicize the findings in order to help other teams in similar situations.
- Avoid evaluation (good/bad). Focus on facts and causes.
- Concentrate on asking open-ended questions (you know the ones - what, how, how many, when, where, why).
- For step three, remember to use the Five Whys technique to ensure you are getting to root cause.
- Follow-up on the actions identified in step 4.
Do you want to embed continuous improvement in your organization? If so, take a hard look at implementing routine AARs to help you get there.
For more on AARs, see Don Clark's writeup. Don spent 22 years in the Army, so he speaks with authority on this subject.
[Graphic downloaded from MicroSoft's on-line clipart site.]