December 22, 2011 9 Comments
Here is a workshop approach for reviewing a project, program, or initiative. While given various names, we will refer to this workshop as the After Action Review. It provides a group reflection by those involved to learn what happened so that we can improve future performance.
The After Action Review has also been referred to with titles such as After-Action Debriefing, a Look Back, a Post Mortem, or a Hot Wash, among others. The After Action Review ought provide a candid discussion of actual performance results compared to objectives.
The input and perspectives required are the engagement participants who have insight, observation, or questions that will help identify and correct the deficiencies, or leverage the strengths, of the completed project. An After Action Review is not intended to critique, grade success, or failure. Rather, it is intended to identify weaknesses that need improvement and strengths that might be sustained.
In a learning culture, collaborative inquiry and reflection are highly valued. The US Armed Forces approach has five basic guidelines that govern its After Action Reviews, namely:
- No sugar coating
- Discover the “ground truth”
- No thick skins
- Take notes
- Call it like you see it
With an After Action Review, being open, candid, and frank is highly valued. Not many groups are capable of complete candor, but it should be encouraged and expected. Participants are asked to identify mistakes they made as well as observations about others. Any other use of the confidential discussions should be discouraged or prohibited, such as performance evaluations. Focus on what can be learned, not who can be blamed.
This workshop typical takes from one to five days. It may include twenty to thirty people or more, but not necessarily everyone at once, with participation spread out over the course of the workshop.
Agenda/ Project or Major Activity
Introduction/ Standard introduction with emphasis on the project objectives and impact of the project on the organizational holarchy, including key assumptions or constraints.
Success Objectives/ Results are compared to the SMART objectives. What worked and hampered are captured as input for later discussion. Other questions are asked about why certain actions were taken, how stakeholders reacted, why adjustments were made (or not), what assumptions developed, and other questions as appropriate.
Goals and Considerations/ Results are compared to the fuzzy goals and other considerations. What worked and hampered are captured as input for later discussion. Questions are asked about why certain actions were taken, how stakeholders reacted, why adjustments were made (or not), what assumptions developed, and other questions as appropriate.
What Worked & Hampered/ Input from above stimulates discussion about options and conditions to be leveraged in subsequent projects.
Issues and Risks/ Assess or build risk management plan and other next steps or actions (eg, Guardian of Change) by the team.
Wrap-up/ Standard FAST review and wrap-up
This workshop can handle more than twenty people, with frequent use of break out groups. Do not hesitate to partition the workshop so that participants may come and go as required. The approach is intended to help shift the culture from one where blame is ascribed to one where learning is prized, yet team members are willingly accountable.
Some ground rules and guidelines that have proven successful in past include:
- Focus on the objectives first
- Do not judge success or failure of individuals (ie; judge performance, not the person)
- Encourage participants to raise any and all potentially important issues and lessons
- Conduct consistently after all significant projects, programs, and initiatives
For learning organizations, it has been suggested that the following are critical to understanding successful After Action Reviews, namely:
- Some of the most valuable learning has developed from the most stressful situations
- Use facilitators who understand the importance of neutrality and do not lecture or preach
- Transform subjective comments and observations into objective learning by converting adjectives such as “quick” into SMART criteria (ie, Specific, Measurable, Adjustable, Relevant, and Time-Based) such as “less than 30 seconds.”
Effective use of After Action Reviews should support a mindset in organizations that are never satisfied with the status quo—where candid, honest, and open discussion evidences learning as part of the organizational culture.
Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.
Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills
The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).
Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.
- How To Manage Group Conflict (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)
- Responsibility Matrix, Agenda Design, and Parking Lot Management (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)
- How to Facilitate Simple Prioritization (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)
- How to Help Resolve Business Arguments (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)
- How to Create a Positive Learning Culture (inc.com)