|An After Action
Review can be thought of as a pocket Knowledge Management System. It
allows you to bring out and share the knowledge that every employee has.
A Leader should guide the After Action Review, rather than direct it,
as it is worker centric and focuses on what was done correctly,
incorrectly, and how to do better next time around.
An After Action Review (AAR) is an assessment conducted after a project
or major activity that allows employees and leaders to discover (learn)
what happened and why. It may be thought of as a professional discussion
of an event that enable employees to understand why things happened
during the progression of the process and to learn from that experience.
Examples of when to use it are: introduction of a new product line in a
production facility, after a busy holiday season in a retail store,
introduction of a new computer system upgrade, after a major training
activity, a change in procedures, etc.
Photo by Fred W. Baker III and courtesy of U.S. Army
Also, the AAR does not have to be performed at the end of a
project or activity. Rather, it can be performed after each identifiable
event within a project or major activity, thus becoming a live learning
process (the learning organization).
The AAR is a professional discussion that includes the participants
and focuses directly on the tasks and goals. It is not a critique. In
fact, it has several advantages over a critique:
As a leader, you are responsible for training your workforce. The AAR is
a tool that can assist you with developing your employees. It does this
by providing feedback. Normally, feedback should be direct and
on-the-spot. Each time an incorrect performance is observed, it should
be immediately corrected so that it will not interfere with future
tasks. During major projects or activities, it is not always easy to
notice incorrect performances. Indeed, in many cases, the correct
performances will be unknown for these projects or activities as they
are learning activities for all the participants. That is why the AAR
should be planned at the end of each activity or event...so that
feedback can be provided, lessons can be learned, and ideas and
suggestions can be generated so that the next project or activity will
be an improved one.
- It does not judge success or failure.
- It attempts to discover why things happened.
- It focuses directly on the tasks and goals that were to be
- It encourages employees to surface important lessons in the
- More employees participate so that more of the project or
activity can be recalled and more lessons can be learned and shared.
An AAR is both an art and science. The art of an AAR is in the
obtainment of mutual trust so that people will speak freely. Innovative
behavior should be the norm. Problem solving should be pragmatic and
employees should NOT be preoccupied with status, territory, or second
guessing "what the leader will think." There is a fine line between
keeping the meeting from falling into chaos where nothing real gets
accomplished, to people treating each other in a formal and polite
manner that masks issues (especially with the boss) where again, nothing
real gets accomplished.
Steps for Conducting the AAR
An AAR may
be formal or informal. Both follow the same format and involve the
exchange of observations and ideas. However, formal ones are normally
more structured and require planning. While informal ones are conducted
anywhere, anytime in order to provide quick learning lessons.
If you become an AAR facilitator, which every leader needs to do:
- Gather all the players.
- Introduction and rules.
- Review events leading to the activity (what was supposed to
- Give a brief statement of the specific activity.
- Summarize the key events. Encourage participation.
- Have junior leaders restate portions of their part of the
- Do not turn it into a critique or lecture. The following will
- Ask why certain actions were taken.
- Ask how they reacted to certain situations.
- Ask when actions were initiated.
- Ask leading and thought provoking questions.
- Exchange "war stories" (lessons learned).
- Ask employees what happened in their own point of view.
- Relate events to subsequent results.
- Explore alternative courses of actions that might have been
- Complaints are handled positively.
- When the discussion turns to errors made, emphasize the
positive and point out the difficulties of making tough
- Allow junior leaders to discuss the events with their people
- Follow-up on needed actions.
A properly conducted AAR can have a powerful influence on the climate of
your organization. It is part of the communication process that educates
and motivates people on to greatness by sensitizing them to do the right
thing. It can prevents future confusion on organizational priorities and
philosophies and drive home the point that we learn from our mistakes.
- Remain unbiased throughout the review.
- Try to speak to draw out comments from all.
- Do NOT allow personal attacks.
- The focus should be on learning and continuous improvement.
- Strive to allow others to offer solutions, rather than you
After Action Review ]
A Leaders Guide To After Action Review (TC 25-20) (1993).
Department of the Army.