“...an exhaustive examination of the role of the
After Action Review (AAR) in the U.S. Army's organizational learning strategy.
While many have written about the AAR, no other authors have uncovered
the dynamics of the process as have Marilyn Darling and Charles Parry.
Indeed their study may provide a source for method improvement as the
Army goes through an historic transformation from a Cold War force to
one structured to meet the challenges of asymmetric conflict”
— COL (ret) John O'Shea
“The Army's After Action Review (AAR) is arguably
one of the most successful organizational learning
methods yet devised. Yet, most every corporate effort to graft this truly
innovative practices into their
culture has failed because, again and again, people reduce the living
practice to a sterile technique. As Marilyn Darling and Charles Parry show, the
crucial difference lies in the synergy between culture and method.
For the Army, AAR's enable people to work together to create results they
truly desire, rather than being another way to force people to do post
mortems. Darling's and Parry's study can help corporate leaders at all
levels grasp the essence of the AAR, so they can help it incubate in their
— Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline
The After Action Review (AAR) has helped the Army accumulate
a very impressive record of success in sustaining and improving performance
at multiple levels and widely varying environments. It also has helped the Army
rapidly transform itself in the face of a changing mission, and has
become part of their cultural fabric. In today's Army, AARs are seen as
simply a normal part of how they do things.
The 40 page study, authored by Marilyn Darling and Charles Parry and published in 2000, takes an in-depth look at how the
practice of AARs evolved from its origins over the course of 20 years, and at the experiences
— both successes and failures — of early adopters experimenting
with applying it in the civilian sector.
One of the key findings is that the AAR, at its best
in either military and civilian settings, is seen as an ongoing practice
— a disciplined approach to improving performance over time —
and not as an event or a tool. Civilian organizations must learn to distinguish
the practice from “retrospectives” or “post-mortems.”
A well-structured AAR practice helps institutionalize
performance improvement and capture knowledge as a way of doing business.
The AAR meeting itself inserts a punctuation mark into the blur of everyday
activities, and provides a discipline to help teams distill, capture and
apply what they are learning as they engage in their mission-critical
An AAR practice does not need to be complex, nor should
it take a great deal of time and effort to implement. As the study describes,
however, there are some elements which are essential to a practice that
will produce long-term performance improvement and knowledge gains comparable
to those achieved by the U.S. Army.
The study's bottom-line recommendation – focus on structuring a complete practice that fits your organization
rather than on trying to use the AAR meeting format as a stand-alone technique. Over time, an ongoing AAR practice will shape a culture, one where people
naturally ask, “What did we learn this time?”
Improving an annual planning process at Shell A business planning team
for Shell's exploration business meets midway through the annual planning
process to review what has worked and hasn't to date. They then hold a
Before Action Review (BAR) to look forward to what the “ground
truth” of the next phase might hold and plan the next AAR meeting
at completion to take lessons learned into next year's process.
Preparing for new model introductions at Harley-Davidson The Kansas City
manufacturing team used AARs to prepare for new product launches. The
team conducts three pre-builds: starting with planning, they test their
assumptions in the production setting, conduct an AAR, adjust their planning
assumptions and performance standards and do it again, until they are
confident that they can perform to standard for the first production run.
Creating a learning discipline in operations at Geerlings & Wade
The operations manger conducts AARs by teleconference on a quarterly basis
to review key events in the warehouse operations over the quarter, paired
with 10-minute spot AARs conducted one-on-one with warehouse
managers to capture lessons and innovations as they occur. This on-going
practice raises the bar for their performance and helps them
build a body of operational knowledge.
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