Don’t Make The Same Mistakes Twice

February 4, 2020 in ,
By Alexandra Mullins

Each month of 2020, we’ll provide insight into what life is like as a consultant by discussing what skills and experiences make this career unique and interesting. Since I started my career in consulting, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some incredible military clients. During this time, I’ve learned that they take AARs very seriously. What is an AAR you ask?

An AAR is more than just another acronym – it’s an After Action Review. Originating from the United States Army, AARs are reviews that occur at the end of projects or events that are meant to identify lessons learned by analyzing what happened and why it happened. The key here is identifying what worked and what didn’t. They are chances for a team to come together and identify successes and failures so that successes can be replicated, and failures can be mitigated on the next project or event.

AARs are more than simply wrapping up the project. When done properly, you will learn to lean on AARs as a valuable resource to identify lessons learned so the team does not make the same mistakes over and over again. Luckily, there are some best practices when it comes to conducting an AAR to make it a productive gathering:

Conduct the AAR shortly after the conclusion at the project or event. This will ensure things are still fresh in everyone’s minds. As more time passes, you risk losing key personnel to other projects or getting too far removed from the project and important details that may be critical to your AAR.

Send out questions ahead of time. Send out what you plan to discuss prior so that your team members have some time to think about their responses. The questions are simple but thought-provoking:

  1. What was supposed to happen and what actually happened?
  2. What worked and what didn’t?

Bring in an outside facilitator. The facilitator is meant to be an individual who has not been involved in the project and ensures that the AAR is used to get a deeper understanding of the project and draw out those lessons learned. The facilitator asks the questions that were sent out to the team, and then asks probing questions to gain that deeper understanding of what happened.

AARs are not meant to be siloed. Don’t let your lessons learned get dusty on the shelf. Identify how to concretely make use of these lessons learned and propose a course of action that may correct (if a previous failure) or replicate (if a previous success) your lesson learned.

AARs are not meant to discuss single points of failure and cause blame. The discussion should center around the team’s performance. What did the team do well? Where can the team improve? AARs are opportunities for learning, not identifying what one person did or did not do.

AARs are not meant to hear one person’s point of view. If you want a productive AAR, don’t forget this point. AARs are meant to be an open environment where team members should be encouraged to participate. If one person is dominating the conversation, you miss out on the perspectives of others. Related to this point is the leader’s or project manager’s role. For team members to participate, leaders should not get defensive about any feedback or different perspective that is offered. Your AAR will be worthless when this happens.

If you keep these best practices and points of guidance in mind, you can set yourself up for a successful AAR. All projects and events can be different, and all lessons learned may not immediately apply, but some will and they will absolutely have an impact on how you approach your next project.

Have you ever participated in an After Action Review? Share your thoughts on AARs with us on LinkedIn!