The After-Action Review (AAR) is a simple process used by a project that enables the team to learn for themselves what happened, why it happened, what went well, what needs improvement and what lessons can be learned from the experience. The spirit of an AAR is one of openness and learning - it is not about problem fixing or allocating blame. The goal of an AAR is to improve future performance. It is an opportunity for a team to reflect on a project, cycle, milestone, event or a significant delivery, and identify improvements so that they can do better the next time.
AAR is a form of group reflection; participants review what was intended, what actually happened, why it happened and what was learned. One member of the group facilitates, capturing results on a flip chart or in a document. One key element for a successful AAR is that they should be carried out with an open spirit and no intent to blame. The best time to conduct an AAR is right after the end of a project cycle or major milestone to reveal what has been learned, reassess direction, and review both successes and challenges.
Here are some of the key elements of an effective AAR:
- Present the purpose and rules, the AAR does not seek to criticize negatively, or find fault. The emphasis should be on learning, so make this clear right from the start to achieve maximum involvement, openness, and honesty.
- AAR’s should be carried out immediately to ensure that all of the participants are still available, and their memories are fresh.
- What was supposed to happen? The team describes the initial objectives of the project or activity, stating just facts and not judgment
- What actually happened? The team must understand and agree on facts about what actually happened.
- Learning begins as the team compares the plan to what actually happened and determined the causes for the differences identifies and discuss successes and shortfalls.
- Recording the key elements of an AAR facilitates sharing of learning experiences within the team and provides the basis for broader learning in the organization.
What makes after action reviews so powerful is that they can be applied across a wide spectrum of activities, from two individuals conducting a five-minute AAR at the end of a short meeting to a day-long AAR held by a project team at the end of a large project.