Wednesday 21 October 2009

10 ways to maximise value from After Action reviews

After Action Review (AAR) is a popular process within Knowledge Management. Developed (and used extensively) by the military, it has found its way into industrial settings, has been used for well over a decade in the oil sector, and is now being adopted by the public sector as well. It's appeal is its simplicity, and its power is the room and the structure it gives to conversations about knowledge. The four questions* are obvious, it usually takes no more than half an hour, and it is a powerful process for developing a learning team. However despite the simplicity, there are a number of things you need to get right, in order to deliver value from an AAR. Here are 10 of them, presented in reverse order.

10. Hold the AAR as soon after the action as practical. Find somewhere safe to sit and talk, and do it immediately if you can, while memories are freshest.

9. Keep the meeting brief and focused. After Action review is for learning "in the think of it" rather than for leisurely post-project review, where we would instead use the Retrospect process. For an After Action review, aim for 15 to 30 minutes. Hold the meeting standing up if necessary.

8. Deal with the significant issues, not trivia. This is what I mean by "focused". You need to review the main objective of the day. If you are doing an AAR of a meeting, for example, you need to review whether the meeting delivered its primary purpose, not whether the room was too hot or the coffee too cold.

7. Everyone involved in the activity should take part. Nobody sees all the action, so involve everyone. You need all of the pieces of the jigsaw if you are to piece together the knowledge.Cross-hierarchy or cross-cultural AARs will be the most difficult, and we remember an AAR in Japan, with a mix of Japanese and Western participants, where very active facilitation was needed to ensure equal participation.

6. Open inclusive behaviours are key. Respect and Listen to each other. Leave hierarchy at the door. Everyone’s knowledge is of equal value. Managers and workers, foremen and supervisors, officers and troops - all need to be on an equal footing in an AAR. The Army say "leave your stripes at the door". You may need to facilitate this, and it may take 3 or 4 AARs before people really open up.

5. Critical path tasks, repeat tasks and high cost tasks may yield the most benefit from an AAR. There is little value in holding an AAR on a task which is of low value, which will never be done again, or which does not significantly impact the overall delivery of the work.

4. Find the root cause. Don’t rush to solutions. Disagreement can be positive and needs to be explored until you get to the underlying reason for the difference between objectives and results.

4. Focus on your own team’s learning. The AAR is primarily for the team, by the team. Focus on this first, rather than on identifying lessons for others (although this may be a byproduct).

2. Learning, not blame or evaluation, needs to be the focus of the AAR. This is about "what do we need to do differently, what do we need to reinforce", not "who messed up, and who was the hero". If you mix AAR and performance appraisal, you will kill any opportunity to learn.

1. Incorporate the learnings into future activity. This is the most important of all. If you arent going to change anything as a result of the AR, the AAR was pretty much a waste of time. Successful teams regularly stop, talk about what they have learned, then change things as a result.

Follow these 10 rules,and your AARs will deliver maximum value. Call us if you need to know more.

*You all remember the four questions

  • What was the objective?

  • What did we achieve, and how did this differ from the objective?

  • Why was there a difference and what was the root cause?

  • What have we learned and what are we going to do about it?

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