I recently coached a client on running an After Action Review (AAR) for the organization’s completed and ongoing projects. I hadn’t thought of its importance before, but helping design an effective way to learn from the successes and failures of activities the team was engaged in is a path towards continuous improvement – and who doesn’t love that?

An After Action Review (sometimes called a “post mortem”, but that’s a little grim :/) is a structured process used by organizations, teams, and individuals to evaluate and analyze the outcomes of a project, program, or event, after it has been completed. The primary purpose is to identify lessons learned, assess performance, and make improvements for future endeavors. 

Here’s why After Action Reviews are so impactful:

  • Learning and Improvement: AARs provide a systematic approach to reflecting on past actions and outcomes. By identifying what went well and what didn’t, organizations can learn from their experiences and make necessary improvements. This continuous learning cycle helps enhance performance over time.
  • Knowledge Transfer: AARs help capture gathered understanding and experiences that may not get documented. This knowledge transfer is crucial for preserving institutional memory and ensuring that valuable insights are passed on to future team members.
  • Accountability: AARs encourage accountability at all levels of an organization. Team members can discuss their roles and responsibilities, assess their performance, and take ownership of their actions, creating a culture of responsibility and accountability.
  • Communication and Collaboration: AARs facilitate open and honest communication within a team or organization. Participants can share their perspectives, experiences, and concerns, which leads to better collaboration and team cohesion.
  • Decision-Making: AARs provide valuable data and feedback that can inform future decision-making processes. Leaders and decision-makers can use the insights gained from AARs to make more informed choices and allocate resources effectively.
  • Adaptation to Change: In rapidly changing environments, AARs help organizations adapt to evolving circumstances. By assessing past performance, organizations can adjust their strategies and tactics to meet new challenges and seize opportunities.
  • Risk Mitigation: AARs can identify weaknesses, gaps, or vulnerabilities in processes or procedures that, if left unaddressed, could lead to future failures or mistakes. This proactive approach to risk mitigation can help prevent costly errors.
  • Motivation and Recognition: AARs can also serve as a platform for recognizing and celebrating successes and the contributions of team members – a great way to boost morale and motivation.

First, schedule the After Action Review meeting and make sure all of the important project contributors can be there. In advance of the meeting, send these thoughtful questions so that participants can come prepared to discuss:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What did they learn?
    • What project elements will you keep? 
    • What needs to be addressed?

Here is an AAR meeting agenda I recently designed:

  1. Check in – I never hold a meeting without an opening opportunity to find out how everyone is doing!
  2. Explain the purpose to the participants so people understand why they are being called together. “We are here to…:”
    • Extract Key learnings – A thorough review of your project can help you identify areas to improve next time.
    • Build Efficiency – Knowing and discussing the pitfalls and issues you encountered can make future projects run smoother.
    • Improve Morale – Getting your project group together one final time is a team spirit booster. It can also be an opportunity to clear the air if something went wrong.
    • Share Knowledge – During a post-mortem meeting, you can exchange information from people working across different areas of the project.
    • Create Closure – A post-mortem meeting can help you celebrate success, cap off your project and give people a sense of achievement.
  3. Set Ground Rules for the meeting:
    • No finger pointing – the goal is to focus on the processes rather than the people
    • Understand nothing we talk about was decided in a vacuum 
    • Respect that everyone is working on their skills (trying to improve)
    • Turn off distractions and be present (this is important)
    • Confidential – what happens here, stays here – the discussion is not to be carried outside of this room
    • Co-create any additional agreements the group would like…
  4. Provide a brief project recap – quantitative & qualitative
  5. Reviewing the achievements:
    • What did we accomplish?
    • What went well? 
    • What did we learn?
    • Celebrate the wins! 
  6. Reviewing the challenges
    • What didn’t go well?
      • What needed improvement? 
      • What would you do differently?
    • What did we learn?
  7. Forward impact/next steps
    • Based on what we learned, what will we do next time?
    • Who will be affected/who needs to know?
  8. Close
    • Check-out with reflection
      • How was this process? 
    • End on a positive note!

After Action Reviews are essential tools for promoting a culture of continuous improvement, learning from experiences, and ensuring that organizations and teams are better prepared to face future challenges and achieve goals. AARs help turn past events into valuable opportunities for growth and development.

So, will you try an After Action Review? Consider where one might impact the organization the most and test it there. Make an experiment of it!

Reach out with your questions, concerns and experiences! If you would like an outside facilitator to help customize and run your next AAR, connect in the comments below or email me at marcy@engagingplay.com.

Book Your Complimentary Discovery Call Today.

Call: (404) 832-5144

© Copyright 2019 — Engaging Play, All Rights Reserved | Designed by Brand Scrubbers