I was first introduced to the concept of After Action Reviews by Colonel Patrick Tierney, a retired U.S. Army officer who I got to know in my time at Acumen.
An After Action Review (AAR) is a review of a completed operation, typically run by the commanding officer and with all members of the operation present.
In an AAR, your job is to answer four questions:
- What was expected to happen?
- What actually occurred?
- What went well and why?
- What can be improved and how?
My sense, from talking to Col. Tierney, is that there’s a level of (harsh) objectivity in an AAR that serves two purposes: surfacing the truths about what happened and building a culture of transparent accountability. Col. Tierney would describe going into an AAR as, “you have to strap on your thick skin before heading into that room.” The feeling was that any and all critiques would come out in the AAR, and then, afterwards, you were done and would put the AAR behind you.
While there’s a full AAR process that is itself very powerful, at a practical level I’ve often found our teams boiling AAR’s down to a simple start / stop / keep rubric: What do we need to start doing? What should we stop doing? What should we keep doing?
To operationalize this, create a table in a Google Doc and have all team members spend the first 5-10 minutes of the meeting filling in the document (or, better, do this before the meeting). In addition to writing, anyone can also +1 another team member’s entry to show they agree with it. For example:
Sharing all spec details at the start of the project ++++
More clear pushback to the client when requests are out of scope +++++
Adding requirements late in the process +++++
Parallel conversations ++
Having daily standups ++++
Clear decision-making +
Raising hands to support each other +++
As I head into 2022, I’ve found myself switching gears more slowly than in the past, likely the result of the Groundhog Day that it we’re living through: cancelled trips, postponed back-to-office plans, tons of emails from schools about new protocols and Zoom options, and global uncertainty.
That said, I know the beginning of the year is an invaluable time for reflection, planning and intention-setting, one that we shouldn’t miss.
With that in mind, I’m planning to start my year with both a personal and an organizational start / stop / keep list.
On the personal front, the list will focus on how I manage my time and my energy, the structure of my days, and any adjustments I might make to keep myself more grounded while still getting everything that I need to get done done.
And, for our company, I’ll use this as a conversation-starter across multiple teams and geographies, a chance for everyone to share what we need more of, less of, and the things that went really well in 2021 that we need to keep.
You might want to try it too.
Happy new year, and here’s to a great start to 2022.