After Action Review (AAR)

The After Action Review (AAR) is a simple and highly effective way to create a project report using action planning and issue analysis.

It's ideal when you need to unpick what really happened in a project and build learning to drive improvement.

After Action Review
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    To bring together the relevant people to understand what really happened.
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    To identify learning and use it, to continually improve.
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    To create a project report and develop an action plan with actions, owners and timescales to drive sustainable change.

When Would You Use It?

  • At the end meetings.
  • During and post change initiatives and projects.
  • To resolve complex customer complaints.
  • Can be completed in 5 minutes at the end of a team meeting or take up to 2 hours for complex topics – it’s the latter application that’s described here.
  • When you need to create a collaborative project report quickly.

Are There Any Rules?

  • Ensure ALL the right people in the room – these are those who played a key role in the project/change initiative/customer complaint.
  • Only disclose one question at a time.
  • A commitment to open discussion is needed – ‘the elephant in the room’ to encourage openness and honesty, may help!

Resources Required

  • A Facilitator – someone who can objectively and assertively lead the review, capture the key points and write them up on flip charts.
  • Flip chart paper, pens and something to stick them on the walls.
  • 1 sheet of flip chart paper for each question, using each question as a header – you’ll need lots more paper to capture all the input during the session.
  • A room with lots of wall space to stick up each flip chart as it’s written.

Ground Rules

  • Encourage a climate of openness and trust – based on the metaphor “there’s an elephant in the room” (a toy elephant in the room acts as a good prop for this).
  • Everyone is on equal footing i.e. no hierarchy.
  • Everyone freely participates.
  • There is no finger-pointing or blame apportioned.
  • What is shared in the AAR, is not attributed to a specific person, unless by agreement.
  • Focus on facts.

Roles & Responsibilities



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    Does not provide any answers – complete objectivity is critical.
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    Ensures everyone’s view is heard.
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    Ensures no blame is brought to the process.
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    May be the team leader, a member of the team or depending on sensitivities, someone who has not been involved may be more appropriate.
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    Must ensure that the AAR addresses the ‘real’ issues by guiding the conversation to the ‘business in question’.
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    Those attending played a key role in the project/change initiative/customer complaint.
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    Drive the actions that result from the workshop.


The discussion addresses 5 questions in sequence...

  • 1
    The Facilitator outlines the purpose of the activity – “to learn from and incorporate learning into future activities”.
  • 2
    The Facilitator outlines how the process will unfold, without sharing the questions and sets the Ground Rules (see separate slide).
  • 3
    The Facilitator asks the 1st question – “What was supposed to happen?” (i.e. what were the objectives). The Facilitator establishes how well the objective(s) were understood and capture all comments on flip chart. Place the flip chart/s where all can view.
  • 4
    The Facilitator repeats step 3 for four further questions:
  • “What actually happened?” to establish the facts about what happened in chronological order – the reality/ truth.
  • “Why were there differences?” to analyse and interpret the activities. Comparing the objectives to what actually happened is where the real learning begins. Successes and shortfalls are discussed.
  • “What can we learn?” to continue the analysis and interpretation.
  • “Who does what as a result?” to develop an action plan with owners, actions and timescales to sustain successes and improve upon the shortfalls.

Secret Sauce

  • In Question 2 strong facilitation is needed as participants are often keen to unwittingly deviate and provide answers to the questions that will follow.
  • Also be aware of reactions and emotions, as question 2 is where blame can start to appear.
  • Depending upon your business culture, be careful about mixing seniority of staff. It may prevent disclosure of information.
  • For an AAR to be successful, it’s ESSENTIAL that:
  • Everyone involved in the event freely participates.
  • Everyone is on equal footing i.e. no hierarchy.
  • There is a climate of openness and trust.
  • There is no finger-pointing or culprit blaming.

Free Download Files

About the Author

Fiona delivers a blend of soft and hard skills to accelerate performance improvement. Results include culture change, operational change, facilitation and executive coaching. Her company Valuing You can be found here.

  • Ginger Adams says:

    Fiona, I reached your web site through a LinkedIn post in an Int’l Assn of Facilitators forum. Thanks very much for the AAR outline!

    • My pleasure Ginger, give it a go and do let me know how it works 🙂 Warmest wishes Fiona

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