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Keep learning: AAR version

Nick Milton posted a link to this video that walks through a simulated After Action Review. It happens to be focused on the wildfire fighting community, but the basics of AAR's are the same everywhere. I thought this was a great walk through of the process and wanted to share some more of the details.

I suspect many people know the basics of After Action Reviews. They developed out of the military and find application just about anywhere. Their main application is in reviewing and learning from events that have just happened. This could be fighting a wild fire, responding to an accident, or running a battle. In a more business sense, AAR's are used after running a training session, giving a presentation, building a new facility (or even elements of that facility), or just about any situation where you and the team want to continually improve the delivery.

Ideally, an AAR happens right after the event and includes all the people who were involved. They aren't intended to review weeks or months after the fact. That said, it isn't a bad idea to have similar "lessons learned" discussions over these longer periods.

The basic questions of an AAR are very familiar. They are used in AAR's, but variations of these are also used in 360 Performance Reviews and the like:

  1. What was supposed to happen? What did you expect?
  2. What actually happened? Collect the facts.
  3. Why did it happen?
  4. What can we do next time? What should we do differently? What should we do more / less?

Note that these questions aren't intended to be negative or positive. They are an attempt to look at what happened and learn, so that the next time the event goes off even better. As with any discussion like this, there are multiple layers of questions (like "The Five Why's") that dive down into the case. I like the explicit mention that the fact-finding will naturally turn up multiple perspectives and viewpoints of the participants. It is this that helps the whole team see better and work toward a shared understanding of the events. This is question 2 and 3 that get into the situation description and thoughts around why things happened.

I liked the video for the setup to the After Action Review. "We want to learn for the next events." and "This isn't for attaching blame." It makes the AAR feel much more personal and focused. Even though the video is a simulated AAR, there was some great examples where people admitted to not doing things perfectly, and the team left it as fact-finding instead of diving into finger-pointing. And that allowed for some other elements to arise that made it clear that the incident wasn't caused by just one slip up.


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