The After Action Review is a structured facilitated process that can be used to debrief an activity or event to analyse what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better by the participants who were involved in the activity or project. This method can be considered either as a knowledge management tool or a performance improvement tool. Both stimulate a culture of accountability.
The four basic steps of an AAR :
Learning While Doing – Time to Reflect (From Chris Collison’s Learning to Fly)
- Hold the AAR immediately. AAR’s are carried out immediately whilst all of the participants are still available, and their memories are fresh. Learning can then be applied right away, even on the next day.
- Create the right climate. The ideal climate for an AAR to be successful is one of openness and commitment to learning. Everyone should participate in an atmosphere free from the concept of seniority or rank. AARs are learning events rather than critiques. They certainly should not be treated as personal performance evaluation.
- Appoint a facilitator. The facilitator of an AAR is not there to ‘have’ answers, but to help the team to ‘learn’ answers. People must be drawn out, both for their own learning and the group’s learning.
- Ask ‘what was supposed to happen?’ The facilitator should start by dividing the event into discrete activities, each of which had (or should have had) an identifiable objective and plan of action. The discussion begins with the first activity: ‘What was supposed to happen?’
- Ask ‘what actually happened?’ This means the team must understand and agree facts about what happened. Remember, though, that the aim is to identify a problem not a culprit.
- Now compare the plan with reality. The real learning begins as the team of teams compares the plan to what actually happened in reality and determines ‘Why were there differences?’ and ‘What did we learn?’ Identify and discuss successes and shortfalls. Put in place action plans to sustain the successes and to improve upon the shortfalls.
- Record the key points. Recording the key elements of an AAR clarifies what happened and compares it to what was supposed to happen. It facilitates sharing of learning experiences within the team and provides the basis for a broader learning programme in the organisation.
The KM4DEV community has recently published a document which includes a useful AAR template for your own activities. Feel free to download it here.