Looking for a tool to do rapid post-project assessment? Try AAR…

There are many tools and techniques available to conduct rapid post-project assessment but the one that stands out is After Action Review (AAR). Interestingly, it is often ignored and very few organisations have managed to embed it in their corporate cultures. I have always wondered, why? May be, because:

  • It is simple in nature and does not have the aura of technobabble
  • As Peter Senge noted “again and again, people reduce the living practice of AARs to a sterile technique”
  • The principles of AAR are conveniently over looked i.e.
    • It is not a post-mortem of past failures; on the contrary AAR propagates the approach of treating every action as an opportunity for learning
    • The output of the exercise (documented in the form of an AAR report) is not meant to be kept away neatly in a repository. The idea is to funnel back the learning into the execution lifecycle of a project / task
    • The focus needs to be on ‘What’, ‘Why’ and ‘How’ rather than ‘Who’

So how do we avoid the potholes and hit the shiny highway (we are expecting a few; the 2014 general elections are around the corner)? Before we deliberate on the key ingredients for success, here is a quick brief about the technique.
AAR operates around the following four questions:

  • What was expected to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • What went well and why?
  • What could have been improved and how?

Simple, isn’t it! Now take a look at the key ingredients:

  • Ensure an open and honest discussion where all team members irrespective of their ranks take part
  • Leaders need to set an atmosphere of transparency where current ways and thinking could be challenged
    • Promote the concept ‘No idea is a bad idea’; what matters most is the interactive dialogue
    • Emphasize on the outcome of a project / task and attempt to extract ‘what went well’ and sustain them
    • It is important to extract lessons from an AAR session but a lesson is not learned unless it is applied in a real environment and validated

Sounds interesting! There is a lot of useful material available on the web. A simple Google search would yield case studies, articles and whitepapers on the tool. And here are a few facts about AAR to fuel your interests further:

  • The tool was developed by the US Army in the 1970s and is being used to this day
  • It has been used in the Emergency Management Programs in the USA
    • An AAR conducted after Hurricane Katrina was the catalyst behind the development of new communications systems to be used during natural disasters
  • AAR became a business tool after Shell started using it in 1998
  • The tool has been subsequently used by organizations like Colgate-Palmolive, Harley-Davidson, J.M. Huber Corporation, GE, British Petroleum and Motorola
  • AAR was referred as “one of the most successful organizational learning methods yet devised” in the Wharton @ Work April 2012 newsletter

As always, comments and feedback are most welcome! Happy Durga Pujas!

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