How to Facilitate an After-Action Review

Posted by Kristin Arnold on January 16, 2023

Facilitate an After-Action Review

I am often asked to facilitate an after-action review (AAR) upon the completion of a project.  It’s a bit more formal than a standard debriefing and allows the participants to truly understand what happened and create some preventive and mitigating strategies for the next project.

AAR typically occurs when the project went south…but can also be applied to glorious projects that we wish we could clone and replicate!

Over the years, I have cobbled together a standard set of questions that are presented in this order (for the most part).

  1. What did you set out to achieve?
  2. What was your plan to achieve this?
  3. How did this change as you progressed?
  4. What went well and why?
  5. What surprised you?
  6. What frustrated you?
  7. What delighted you?
  8. What did you not see coming?
  9. What could have gone better?
  10. What advice would you give yourself if you were to go back to where you were at the start of the project?
  11. What were the two or three key lessons you would share with others?
  12. Can you think of a story that summarizes your experience of working on this project?
  13. What should we have learned from this project a year from now?
  14. Are there any lessons for you personally?
  15. Based on the conversation, what actions should we put in place to prevent and/or mitigate these problems from occurring again OR what actions should we put in place to ensure we have continued success like what we experienced on this project?

I may do a bit of pre-work to document the facts of what happened from start to finish by asking the team “crowdsource” that timeline of activity.

We gather the folks together (either face-to-face and/or virtually) and start with the first three questions.

In the face-to-face environment, I’ll post questions 4-9 on separate flipcharts around the room and we’ll travel as a large group (or breakout into smaller groups) to answer the questions.

We then reconvene and ask the deeper dive questions 10-14.

We finish the AAR with a round of “takeaways” – going around the room to ask each person to contribute to the action item list.  Finish the session with any accountabilities that need to be applied to the action item list.

Viola!  That’s how you facilitate an after-action review (AAR)!


Related Articles:

How to Facilitate a Strategic Conversation, NOT Brainstorming

Team Activity: Team Year in Review

Lead Your Team Through an Efficient Project Debrief

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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