You’re In The Army Now!

Business Process ImprovementNo, you are not really in the Army now. However, they have developed a technique called The “After Action Review” (AAR) which is a debriefing meeting to help its soldiers capture the lessons, both positive and negative from each mission.

1. What was the Goal? (mission)
2. What actually happened?
3. What went well and why?
4. What could be improved and how?

The aim is to conduct a facilitated “post-mortem” session to capture and document the lessons learned, so that planning and execution can be improved for each future mission.

From the business perspective, an AAR meeting should be built into each Strategic Project as the final Task to “check off” before archiving the Project and moving on to the next one. If you operate on a quarterly planning cycle and update your Strategic Plan every 90 days, it would make sense to perform an AAR meeting prior to each quarterly planning session, so that your team can “cement the new learning” before setting priorities for the following quarter.

Ideally, everyone who was involved in the Project should participate in the debrief session. Work through each of the four questions in the order listed. Ask each person to capture their individual responses in writing and then share what they wrote with the group.

Insist that every person should share their honest observations as to what actually transpired, but emphasize that their comments must be based on observable facts, not opinions or conjecture.

You could start with these sample facts:
– What was the Project supposed to look like when it was 100% complete?
– What were the key Tasks and what were their original due dates?
– When were these Tasks actually completed?
– What were our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and did we achieve our

Numerical Targets
The objective is to present the facts and then ask the four questions to identify the lessons they contain. You could also consider an outside facilitator to keep the group focused on the facts and finding solutions.

The purpose of the AAR is to improve all phases of the operation in the future. You want to create and document your best practices that emerge from these meetings so they can be incorporated into future Projects. There will always be strengths you can build on, and weaknesses you can improve on.

Encourage participants to share their honest observations without blaming or praising anyone. The challenge is that we must highlight the problems and not pretend they don’t exist. However, it is equally important that we “internalize the learning” and document what we will do differently next time.

Notes should be captured, and shared with the entire organization. It is not necessary to attribute specific comments to any particular individuals in the meeting notes. This encourages openness and honesty during the AAR without fear of later repercussions. I understand why this may be the case, but this is not a witch hunt. Ideally you want to build a high trust culture where people can speak candidly without needing anonymity.

Like most Business Process Improvements, it requires discipline to make this practice a consistent step in your strategic and project planning process. The unwanted alternative is to keep on repeating the same mistakes.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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Posted in Business Process Improvement, Leadership, Performance Management

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