Sticky Notes: The After-Action Review

In military circles, a process of rigorous team-self-evaluation follows any significant “action.” The purpose is to scrutinize every decision and action taken and trace the outcomes, looking for opportunities to improve.

Rigorous ongoing scrutiny and evaluation of decisions, actions, and outcomes is the essential process of continuous improvement—for individuals and teams alike. In military circles, a process of rigorous team self-evaluation follows any significant “action”; it is called an “after-action review.” The purpose is to scrutinize every decision and action taken and trace the outcomes, looking for opportunities to improve.

Here is one model for after-action review, which can be applied after any individual or team “action” in order to scrutinize a set of decisions, actions, and outcomes:

  • What decision was made? Who made it? Why? What was the outcome?
  • What actions were taken? Who made them? Why? What was the outcome?
  • What were the leading alternative decisions that were not made? What different outcomes might have occurred?
  • What were the leading alternative actions that were not taken? What different outcomes might have occurred?

The purpose is not to beat yourself up but to improve going forward. Such improvements come when you develop the skill set of accurately thinking ahead and predicting the consequences of different decisions and actions. It is difficult to develop that sort of strategic thinking without experience. The after-action review is one way to jumpstart the cultivation of that skill set.

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