6 reasons why After Action reviews are such a great tool.
After Action reviews are one of the core tools in Knowledge Management – but what makes them so powerful?
They are applied in many organisations around the world as part of their Knowledge Management Framework. They are focused review meetings, relatively short in duration, designed to help the team become conscious of their own knowledge, so they can act on that knowledge as work progresses. It is like “learning on Tuesday to perform better on Wednesday”. In addition, the learning can be transferred to other teams, but this is generally a secondary role.
This process was developed by the US Army, who use it as their main knowledge-gathering process. It does not go into very great analytical depth, and so is useful for reviewing short-turnaround activity, or single actions. It is short and focused enough to do on a daily basis, perhaps at the end of a meeting or at the end of a shift. After Action review consists of a face-to-face team discussion around 5 questions:
- “What was supposed to happen’?”
- “What actually happened?”
- “Why was there a difference?”
- “What have we learned?”
- “What will we do about it?”
So what makes AARs so valuable? Here are 6 reasons (and you can find 6 more reasons here);
- AARs are a conversation about knowledge. They are not progress reviews or individual evaluations, they are conversations with the sole purpose of discussing new knowledge and new learning. The very act of holding an AAR is an acknowledgement that knowledge is important.
- AARs are high bandwidth. Face to face conversation is far and away the best method to surface shared knowledge and to discuss it.
- AARs are culture change agents. People find that it is possible to open up and to share knowledge in a group session, with no risk and no comeback.
- AARs are instant feedback. As people share their knowledge, they can see it being transformed instantly into actions and improvements. Instead of their knowledge vanishing into a black hole, they see immediate results.
- AARs are quick and efficient. They can take as little as 15 or 20 minutes, but may have a big cumulative effect.
- AARs lead to action and to change. Or at least, they should do. Question 5 is the key here – “What are we going to do about it”? AARs are successful to the extent that they lead to change and to action. If they are just talking shops – if all they do is lead to bullet points on a flipchart – then they are a waste of time. AARs should be used to drive changes and improvements in the way a team, department or organisation works.