After Action Reviews

I’ve become a big fan of harvesting lessons from both successes and failures.  One of my favorite tools for doing so is the formal After Action Review. (This is also sometimes called ‘hotwash’ or ‘hot wash’.)

Keys to a good After Action Review meeting:

  1. Only include the people who took part in the action (including planning it)
  2. No names, no ranks – everybody speaks their mind, and past performance is referred to by title or position, never by name. No ego, no fear, just truth and openness. Everybody is subordinate to the mission.
  3. Focus is on fixing the future (not assigning blame for the past)
  4. Put the needs of the firm above your need to be right, to be perfect, to be safe – approach the task of improving our process with humility and candor.
  5. The seven stages of the debrief are STEALTH:

[S] Set time, location, and prepare

  • assign roles: timekeeper, scribe, data input person, discussion leader (same as mission planner)
  • inform everyone what they need to bring
  • prepare the room with flip charts, clean table tops
  • start on time / keep on schedule / end on time

[T] Tone is nameless, rankless

  • lead by example; be open
  • talk in the third person – never “I” or “you” but “the lead carpenter”, “the estimator”
  • don’t care about WHO is right – care about WHAT is right

[E] Execution vs. Objectives –

  • were objectives SMART?
  • reconstruct the sequence of events
  • did we accomplish the mission?

[A] Analyze execution

  • list errors and successes
  • for each error/success, list cause(s)
  • identify underlying root cause(s) of each

[L] Lessons Learned

  • prominent or recurring root causes

[T] Transfer Lessons Learned – make part of future process

[H] High note – positive summation

Source: “Flawless Execution” by James D. Murphy, ISBN 0-06-083416-1
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