We carried out an After Action Review last week on an opportunity with a partner. I really like participating and learning from AARs. It is a good discipline and I like the discipline! Discipline can have a bad name, but there are many scenarios where discipline is a really good thing. Discipline can help make sure something that should happen does happen. Alternatively, a lack of discipline can lead to errors and problems.
Participating and learning from After Action Reviews (what did we want to happen? What happened? Why? And what can we learn for next time?) is a simple and enjoyable activity. I have long since felt that an organisation that invests, advocates and uses AARs has potential to set itself apart uniquely from others. A true Learning Organization will continually learn, grow and achieve…as will anyone working in such an organisation. Moreover, AARs should be engaging and interactive to ensure we learn from what we have done and make sure we do even better next time.
That having been said, no matter how impressed I am with AARs, I have always thought that a Pre-Action Review sounded like a really good idea. Done properly (and with discipline) a Pre-Action Review should be an excellent way to avoid a problem before it happens.
It turns out of course, that this is not a new idea. There are a variety of well described formal and informal methods of carrying out Pre-Action Reviews, including the unattractively named Failure Mode & Effects Analysis (FMEA). The good news, however, is that I have participated in FMEAs and it is – in truth – both an engaging and interactive process…and more importantly it really helped the teams I was working in.
Despite the name, a successful FMEA is should help teams identify how, and where, their proposed plan (of whatever complexity) is most likely to fail…based on past data and experience. This past data and experience is where the AARs blend in as well. Done properly and done at the right time FMEA even allows potential failures to be identified and ranked in order of likelihood and likely (negative) impact…impressive stuff! Even better is that the insight gained will enable teams to avoid those failures before they happen.
Like most of these activities, many of us would say it’s obvious and that we do it anyway. Maybe…maybe not. I wish I could say – hand on heart – that I always carried out such a review. But if we do (or if I do), then more often than not, I do so without discipline. Where – for example – do I record or share output from my own reviews?
Of course, none of us ever set out to do anything we believe will not succeed. But rightly or wrongly, we are all subject to the law of unintended consequences – unforeseen events can potentially be more significant than any of the intended outcomes of our actions. No matter what we may like to believe, it’s just not possible for us to fully control everything that goes on around us.
Theoretically, of course, (just not very often in my case) unintended consequences can be a positive outcome. But even if this is the case, then a well done Pre-Action Review should predict such outcomes…and even encourage them to be the result.
For an organisation to be a true Learning Organisation everyone has to want to learn and want to work together – openly and without judgement – to learn together at a personal, project team and business level. And part of this learning has to be about how we avoid ‘failures’ before they happen…at all levels.