The After Activity Review (AAR) is used extensively by the U.S. military (therein After Action Review), as a “learning tool” to improve the performance of all participants, no matter how lowly or exalted. AARs are formally part of all training and operations.
The After Activity Review (AAR) is a structured evaluation of performance; performance of an individual, group, or organization. The structure and process of the AAR provides scalability and adaptability to any event wherein performance is evaluated.
I participated in, and used AARs extensively as a Grade A, straight-leg Mud-Roller, beginning at the tender age of forty-one. But because of my “experience,” and my business perspective at that time, I saw immediate applicability to the business world, and forthwith adapted AARs into my business environment.
You may download “civilianized” versions of the U.S. Army’s two AAR documents from here: https://harryhobbes.com/downloads/
- A Leader’s Guide to AARs
- AAR Self-Study Guide
These provide an extensive explanation of the whys and wherefores of AARs.
The following is a synopsis of how to do an AAR, wherein I am “giving away the family jewels,” in that I have included the “art” of AARs. (The formal documentation and training from the U.S. military does not include the “art” of AARs.) The “art” results from many years experience applying AARs within the business world, and cutting to the chase to get to an effective review.
After Activity Reviews: How To…
AARs can be conducted by an individual, for him/herself; by two or more people, for themselves; by teams, groups, or organizations; essentially, by any sized forum, constrained only by meeting logistics.
Purpose Simply Stated:
The purpose of an AAR is to self-evaluate performance, so as to improve; to identify “what went well, what didn’t go well, and [most importantly] what to do next time.”
The basic method is to openly discuss actual events and their outcomes from two viewpoints that may be in opposition, but not necessarily in opposition. The important point is that two contrasting viewpoints tend to act synergistically, so we want contrasting viewpoints. (For our purposes herein, let’s call these two viewpoints “proponent” and “customer.”) In addition, evaluating performance from these two viewpoints allows performers to assess their performance from “the other point of view.”
The structured agenda for an AAR progresses through and evaluation of events and outcomes. An AAR is not about personalities, not about good or bad, and not a critique focused on “coulda, woulda, shoulda…”
An AAR is an evaluation of events and outcomes. Period.
Someone must facilitate and moderate the AAR. That is, keep it on track and on agenda, because of the participants’ natural tendencies to get into critiquing and devolve into contention. Contention is not productive in AARs.
The facilitator must promote evaluation for mutual benefit, but must not allow contention. ALL discourse must focus on events and outcomes. Period.
Sequence of Conducting an AAR:
Established “The Goal, The Plan, and What Happened:” (Write these on the top a list.)
- A statement from the proponent of the proponent’s goal; what was the intention and desired outcome.
- A statement from the customer of the customer’s goal; what was the intention and desired outcome.
- A statement from the proponent of the proponent’s intended method (or means) and plan to achieve the goal.
- A statement from the proponent of the customer’s intended method (or means) and plan to achieve the goal.
- The proponent describes what actions were taken to pursue the goal and plan, and what events and outcomes happened in sequence.
- The proponent “connects the dots” directly between actions and events and outcomes.
- The customer describes what he/she observed with the proponent’s events and outcomes, and how the customer reacted. (NOT the proponent’s success and failures.)
Evaluate “What Went Well:” (Write these on column one of the list, below the goal, plan, and what happened.)
- An exploration and evaluation by the proponent of what went well; what was successful; what planned, desired outcome was achieved.
- Feedback from the customer from his/her perspective on what part(s) of the proponents stated goal, plan, and outcomes went well; what was successful; what outcome was achieved.
Of particular importance is to note “What Did Not Go Well:” (Write these on column two of the list.)
- An exploration and evaluation by the proponent of what did not go well; what was unsuccessful; what planned, desired outcome was not achieved. Link this back to specific actions or inaction: “I didn’t achieve…because I didn’t…”
- Feedback from the customer from his/her perspective on what part(s) of the proponents stated goal, plan, and outcomes did not go well; what was unsuccessful; what outcome was not achieved. Link this back to specific actions or inaction: “The outcome wasn’t achieved…because the actions didn’t…”
Establish “What To Do Next Time:” (Write these on column three of the list.)
- For each item listed under “What Did Not Go Well,” state one or more actions to correct the outcome.
- For each item listed under “What Went Well,” state one or more actions to ensure that the outcome next time.
Based on the above, the proponent summarizes the outcome, what was satisfactory and successful, and what needs improvement. This is a major “take-away,” and is input to “next time.”
AARs are a powerful tool for objectively evaluating performance, for the purpose of improving performance. Scalable and adaptable, they can be used in just about any circumstance.
The above synopsis will get you started. Just stick to the basic framework, and don’t allow personalities and “coulda, woulda, shoulda” to rear their ugly heads.
But perfect practice makes perfect, so jump in and apply AARs early and often. Let your imagination tell you when to apply the tool. (Imaginations are never wrong.)
As always, please do not hesitate to ask if you have questions or concerns…