“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room.” – The Dalai Lama
This quote has always been a favorite of mine. To me it means that sometimes even the smallest, simplest idea can create the biggest change in what you do.
Let me introduce one of the most powerful mosquitos in the world. It’s a process the U.S. Army uses in every aspect of its operations, and which top companies all over the world use to continually improve—the AAR, or After Action Report.
The U.S. Army created the AAR back in the 1970s in order to become better at the myriad of tasks for which it is responsible. Using the AAR, it went from one of the most hierarchical and bureaucratic organizations to a more horizontal or flat organization, but more importantly, it became a learning organization.
An AAR is an assessment conducted after a project or major activity that allows both employees and leaders to discover and learn what happened and more importantly, why it happened. It may be thought of as a professional discussion of an event that enables employees to understand why things happened during the process and to learn from that experience.
We've experienced it first-hand.
Here at The Image Shoppe, we’ve learned a lot from embracing the simple and flexible, yet powerful AAR process. It’s made a difference in how we think about projects, and it has helped improve how we design, code, and even speak about how we do our work.
An AAR in its simplest form is six questions that your team answers about a project or event in which they participated. Keep in mind, depending on the project, the answers can be a few or a few dozen or more, the goal is to keep them bulleted for simplicity and reference.
- What was supposed to happen?
- What did happen?
- What are some improvements?
- What are some sustainments?
- What can be done to improve the training (or type of project) next time?
- Closing comments (summary).
The overall goal of the AAR is to learn from both your successes and more importantly your failures to carry forward changes that improve your thoughts and actions in what you do.
Here’s Some Quick Advice When Conducting AAR’s:
- Keep it positive. An AAR is an opportunity to become better, not worse.
- It should be directed by a team leader, or someone who can guide the session effectively.
- Keep responses in bullet form. This encourages actionable results.
- AAR’s are not a complaint session. The AAR belongs to the team as an improvement tool.
- Keep a hard copy for future reference. If a like event or project is assigned, it can be valuable to review the previous lessons learned.
Improvement, not Perfection
In closing, no one strives to be just the same they were before they started. It’s in our nature to improve upon whatever we do, even in consistency. The AAR is an opportunity to ratchet up the performance of just about everything you can do both personally and professionally. It can even be applied to your own life. So the next time you find yourself in the dark about getting better, remember the AAR; unlike that real mosquito, it’ll help you sleep better at night.