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What Makes An After Action Review Successful

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What Makes An After Action Review Successful

In the first part of my 2 part series looking at After Action Reviews, I explained what an After Action Review is, and outlined the different activities that take place during it. In part 2, I want to follow up with an overview of what needs to be done to ensure that an After Action Review is successful.

Let’s get straight to it, with my 8 tips on how to ensure that the process is successful

Have a good independent facilitator

The facilitator role is key, as they will dictate the direction and pace of the After Action Review. If the AAR is to be a success it is vital that they remain impartial. For this reason it is good practice to have a facilitator who was not involved in the project. Where I work, we have a pool of trained facilitators who make themselves available for a certain number of After Action Reviews each year.

Everyone involved in the project needs to attend

There is no point in doing an After Action Review if everyone in the project can’t be there. If anyone is missing you will almost certainly miss out on some aspect of what happened during the project. As a result you will be unable to identify all of the potential learning.

Ensure there is no blame

It must be clear going into the After Action Review that the purpose is to focus on learning, and not on finding a scapegoat. The climate, should be open and free from free, in order for there to be a successful outcome. The facilitator should make this clear at the start of the review.

What happens in the After Action Review, stays in the After Action Review

The only content that should be discussed outside of the review, is content that the participants agree to share. Normally this takes the form of Action Reports, which are created at the end of the review. This is important as participants will then feel free to be open when discussing the project. Again the facilitator should make this clear at the start of the review.

Meet as soon as possible after the project conclusion

It is key that the After Action Review takes place as quickly as possible after the project. Finding out how people felt about a project i.e. exploring their emotions is an important aspect of learning what to do the next time. After time passes most people forget how they felt, especially if they go on to work on other projects. The danger of leaving too long a period, is that the focus will only be on technical aspects of the project.

Create SMART Actions to be taken out of the Review

SMART actions (Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic, Timely) are essential if what is learned from the After Action Review is to be applied successfully in the future. If actions are too fuzzy, and not assigned an owner then what was learned during the review, may not make a difference next time.

Output should be linked training

To ensure that mistakes during a project are not repeated by others in future projects, it is important that what is learned during the After Action Review, is embedded into company training programs.

Leader Support

It is crucial that senior members of the team are fully supportive of the After Action Review. Any indication that management do not support the process can quickly spread to more junior members of the team, and as a result the review is not taken seriously.

As you can see there are a lot of factors that go into making this process successful. Based on my experience I would highly recommend the tool to anyone who is committed to learning not just at an individual level, but also at the organisational level.

Let me know what you think via the comments. Have you participated in an After Action Review in the past? If so, what factors contributed to its success? For those of you who haven’t used this process, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

I live in Kilkenny, Ireland, and I'm married with one daughter. I was born in Derry, and came to Kilkenny via Manchester, England, and Dublin. My passion is all things Social Media, and for the last 2 years I have been working as a Social Media Evangelist for Oracle, where I have worked for the last 8 years. This role entails, promoting the use of Social Media internally for improved communication and collaboration. My other interests include sports, especially football (soccer), reading, video games, movies/tv, music and walking.

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  • Nialldevitt

    “It must be clear going into the After Action Review that the purpose is to focus on learning, and not on finding a scapegoat” Great advice! analayse the process and not the people. I believe that accountability is important which means for me taking responseability for one’s own actions/involvement. This needs to be encouraged rather than demanded.

  • Facundo

    Interesting Frank. I haven’t participated in one of these in a structured way yet. I like the points and think they are attainable, it’s probably a challege for smaller companies to find that impartial facilitator though.

  • In any interaction where people are involved, it is so important to address behaviour and actions, more so than the character of the person. This eliminates scapegoating and the “blame game” which results in no learning. A project is of limited use, if not to be learned from for future projects.nnEverything we do in our work, can be monitored, reviewed and used for future learning (so that mistakes are not repeated, and successes are recognised and useful for future).nnGreat pointers Frank, and I particularly like the SMART actions, as I would normally use that for goal setting. I think its a great process that can be used in small businesses also, a structured way of a business owner to review a campaign or project.n

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