After action review

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A method used to capture and evaluate lessons learned from an action, project or activity. (Last published: A process that involves conducting a structured and facilitated discussion after a task or project has been completed to review what should have happened; what actually happened; and, where differences exist, why it happened)

Purpose and benefits

The after action review is a simple process used by a team to capture the lessons learned from past successes and failures with the goal of improving future performance. It is an opportunity for a team to reflect on a project, activity, event or task so that the next time, they can do better. The review will not only make learning conscious within a team but it can also help build trust amongst the team’s members. Intended audience and required skill for delivery. Participants of an after action review should include all members of the team. A competent and neutral facilitator should be appointed to help create an open environment, promote discussion and draw out lessons learned.

After action review allows participants to learn how to sustain strengths and improve on weaknesses in subsequent tasks or projects. It is used to help teams to learn quickly from their successes and failures and share their learning with other teams.


AARs identify and capture the things that went well and the things that could be improved so that team or work group members are aware of and can use the broader team/group's learning in their future projects or work activities. Results can also be shared with future teams or other work groups so they can learn from the experiences of others. AARs are excellent for making tacit knowledge explicit during the life of a project or activity. AARs are a useful tool for developing employees by providing constructive, directly actionable feedback in a non-threatening way. They give employees an opportunity to share their views and ideas.

  1. Pre-requisites:

The sessions should be done as soon as possible after the completion of the project task or activityies. They could also be done at any strategic point during a project. AARs simply need to have a beginning and an end, an identifiable purpose and some basis on which actions can be assessed. A competent and neutral facilitator should be appointed to help create an open environment, promote discussion and draw out lessons learned.

  1. The AAR process:
    1. When planning and preparing for the AAR session, please consider the following:
      • Schedule the AAR
      • Select a facilitator
      • Notify participants
      • Select and prepare the AAR site/location
      • Assemble AAR materials
      • Establish the AAR agenda or discussion flow
    2. When conducting, please consider the following:
      • Seek maximum participation
      • Maintain focus on AAR objectives
      • Review key points learned
      • Record the AAR
  2. Follow-up:

Results can also be shared with future teams or other work groups so they can learn from the experiences of others through an easily accessible location/resource (e.g. shared space, portal, corporate project management system, blogs, corporate wiki) . Well documented results of an after action review session can be incorporated into a critical incident review system and incorporated into the corrective actions schema (often adopted by NPPs, less common for nuclear R&D organizations)


An action review is commonly conducted after a task or activity is completed. However in some cases an intermediate action review can be undertaken. The main principles applied are still the same. There are three types of AARs. Although the fundamentals are similar and depending upon the event, an AAR can be Formal, Informal or Personal. All involve the exchange of observations and ideas. Both Formal and Informal AARs should be appropriately documented so lessons learned may be shared across functional and geographic boundaries, and so that implementation of improvements can be measured.

  • Formal AAR: A formal AAR is more structured, requires planning and takes longer to conduct. The formal AAR usually occurs immediately or soon after an event is completed. It may also occur while the event is in-progress. A neutral third party should facilitate a formal AAR.
  • Informal AAR: Informal AARs are less structured, require much less preparation and planning and can be conducted anywhere, anytime, for any event, by anyone. Examples: following a meeting or conference call; or as part of a safety briefing. Managers or other interested parties may facilitate their own informal AARs.

Implementation guide

There are no universal rules on how AARs should be undertaken, as many organizations develop their specific formants and level of formalization or involvement. What makes AARs so powerful is that they can be applied across a wide spectrum of events from two individuals conducting a 5-minute AAR at the end of a short meeting to a longer AAR held by a team at the end of a large project. Individuals involved may absorb lessons learned on the spot and they can be documented in a format that can be shared with a wider audience. A properly conducted AAR can also have a powerful influence on the climate of the organization. It is a part of the communication process that educates and motivates people and focuses them on organizational priorities to improve procedures across the organization. The key questions to be asked during an AAA session are:

  1. What was supposed to happen?
  2. What actually happened?
  3. Why was there a difference?
  4. What can you learn from it?

Success factors

  • Mutual trust must be obtained so that people will speak freely. The climate must be one of trust, openness and commitment to learning.
  • Proper documentation of lessons learned (in form of minutes or remarks or system inputs) and placement in an easy accessible repository.
  • Ensuring that the session is brief and to the point.
  • The AAA is not a full project review. This takes place at or near the end of the project and is more substantial in scope and content.
  • Excellent facilitation skills.

Common pitfalls

The AAR facilitator is the project leader/task implementer. In this case the neutrality of the facilitator is not in place and free exchange of thoughts and possible suggestions for improvements can be perceived as critics. Often AARs are conducted in a format of performance evaluation instead of free idea exchange and analysis. This link with performance appraisal or result evaluation destroys the core value of the approach Blind video recording of the discussion might make the recording con less attractive for storing, retrieving and can prevent people from an open discussion as it is on record.

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