Wednesday, 31 March 2010

What should have happened? Continuous learning

After Action Reviews (AARs) are excellent tools – they may be painful to do, (someone who can fulfil the role of a facilitator is always well worthwhile), awkward to suggest, time consuming to pull out the most valuable lessons, and even more time consuming to change processes within the organisation in the light of that learning – but they are such good value!

If you are not familiar with After Action Review it is basically a case of getting together all of those involved in that particular project, and reviewing how it went. It could be a project or a transaction, and the aim is to find out:

  • What was supposed to happen?

  • What actually happened?

  • What is the difference between the two questions above?

  • What can we learn from this?

  • What would we do differently next time?
The benefit can be enormous; it can stop the wheel being reinvented in future work, it can improve the quality of the work carried out next time, it can save time and once a routine of carrying out AAR’s is established, the lessons learnt can be used right at the beginning of the project, adding in a “what do we already know” stage, before the project is undertaken.

Then you can move into “before, during and after” reviews, which is a very healthy state to be in.

I believe that some of the origins of this can be traced back to the US Army, but my favourite hand book is “Learning to Fly” by Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell.

There is a lot of good material on their website, but there are lots of helpful experiences, templates and implementation advice around elsewhere as well. Kim Plowright shares a template that she uses for projects, and it has some useful prompts. Some of the language used may need to be changed to be relevant to your own organisation, but it can be a useful exercise.

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