The world as we know it today has benefitted a lot from innovations that were originally developed for and used in military operations. From internet to mobile technology, from sophisticated bridge designs to corporate strategy and many other advanced products and bodies of knowledge. One useful military methodology that has found its way into the corporate world is After Action Reviews (AARs). Originally, AARs were developed and used by the US military but have been found useful beyond the army.
When do you need to conduct an AAR? Basically any time you have experienced a significant event in your work environment where you believe that big lessons need to be learnt to inform how different officers can perform their duties next time. For example, if you experience a major disaster like fire or breaking into a bank or simply a major financial loss or fraud. These are just few examples from millions of events that would be good candidates for AAR.
Why would you need to conduct an AAR? The main reason is a desire for continuous improvement. If you are committed to ensuring that when things don’t seem to have gone right and you do not want a repeat of the same pattern of activities then AAR will be ideal. But it could also be on a positive note where teams managed an incidence really well and you might want to conduct an AAR so that positive lessons can be learnt and all the good practices can be learnt, documented and cascaded to other teams as practice worth replication.
What is the best process for conducting AARs? There are teams that use very formal processes for conducting AARs. But a basic approach will yield you good enough results provided you do not omit key elements of an AAR. First, you need to appoint a facilitator who would coordinate the AAR process. Secondly, it is important to assemble an AAR team that would work with the facilitator in conducting the AAR.
The AAR team would need to be familiar with what were the intended objectives of the event or project. They then would need to compare what actually happened with what was expected, desired or planned. Any deviations would need to be noted. Then the team needs to analyse all the actions that were taken or not taken by all the relevant parties. Again, any deviations between what actually happened and what ought to have happened need to be noted as these are key for the lessons learnt from an AAR process.
Finally, a report needs to be done for AAR. This will contain the AAR objectives, the process and methodology used as well as the findings and recommendations. The important elements of the AAR are not really who went wrong but rather what can be done differently and better next time. Such lessons need to be shared with and cascaded to all the relevant parties to avoid a repeat of bad events.
When something goes wrong at home, at work or in any project that we are involved in, we all rush to reactively deal with the situation and then afterwards, we spend time blaming each other. But, successful people take time to take stock of what happened so that they can learn lessons for the future. Today, we have discussed a framework for After Action Review (AAR) that could prove useful as we begin to act like successful people by stepping back to draw lessons for the future, after a major or even a small event has occurred. All the best as you rise and shine with AARs!