In the Army we would do what’s called an After Action Review (AAR), which was a way for us to debrief after a mission. We’d do it after every mission, even in training. We did this so we could learn what worked, what didn’t work, and what we can do to make next time better.
This is huge for any business.
Learning from past mistakes is never going to hurt you. And doing more of what worked, well that’s just common sense.
Want to do an AAR, but just aren’t sure where to start? Here’s a quick guide:
- Ask open ended questions. It is way more effective to ask open ended questions when trying to find out what happened. For example: Joe, what happened when you met with the client? Instead of Joe, you didn’t get the client to accept our proposal did you? Avoid asking “yes” or “no” questions, and definitely don’t point fingers. That’s a quick way to get people to stop participating in these reviews.
- What was supposed to happen? What actually happened? And what caused the variation between what actually happened and what was supposed to happen? In some cases the answers will be obvious, in others not so much. By defining these things, it helps everyone understand what is being reviewed. Ideally they would already know the answers to at least the first two questions, but if not it can flush out a communication issue. The last question will get different answers from different perspectives.
- What worked? What didn’t work? Why didn’t it work? Again, we want to make sure everyone understands what worked so they can do more of that in the future. We also want to understand what didn’t work so we do less of that in the future. But most importantly, we want to know why something didn’t work. This will help move something from the “didn’t work” column to the “worked” column in the future.
- What are some action items to change for next time? You want to specify exactly what your team will or won’t do next time. If it’s said out loud or even written down, your team will be more likely to remember what those action items are.
- Summary. Make sure to recap those action items, and anything that needs special attention. If there are follow-ups, make sure whoever is responsible for them knows what to do.
Even if you’re a solopreneur, it’s a great idea to do after action reviews. Give yourself the opportunity to slow down and reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly. Use the time to improve your processes, or maybe come to the realization that you shouldn’t go it alone anymore.