AAR and BAR: complementary processes for briefing and debriefing projects and processes

A manager once approached his senior with a grave expression drawn upon his face. I hereby submit my resignation, he said; I made a mistaken decision and lost the company five million dollars. Do you know why and how this happened? Asked the senior manager. Of course, replied the resigning manager, and immediately presented a detailed report of the causes of this costly mistake. If so, said the corporation manager, you should stay; don't resign. I already paid for your 'training'; you must now stay so that we benefit from what you've learned.

Projects and processes that enable organizations to learn from past events are an obviously a vital tool for any organization. It's one thing to err once, but why repeat a mistake? And indeed, many organizations debrief events in order to refrain from recurring mistakes. Some even use learning and debriefing tools to reproduce successes.

This is fine and dandy, yet many find implementing these processes difficult.

There's never time; everyone is on the run. The debriefing method commonly implemented in Israel (facts-findings-conclusions-lessons-tasks) consumes many resources when implemented that organizations prefer not to use it when possible. In many cases, organizations debrief yet reach the lessons stage drained of their initial energy and consequently produce results of low-quality. In some cases, organizations give up due to lack of time or interest. Furthermore, the debriefing process must be performed sensitively; if it is performed insensitively and the organization lacks a suitable culture we might find ourselves occupied with searching for scapegoats instead of learning.

This article will focus on the first problem: the debriefing methodology

It might come as a surprise to some, but the methodology commonly used in Israel is rarely used anywhere else. The debriefing methodology commonly used in the US, and apparently in Europe as well, is called AAR: an acronym for After Action Review. This methodology is so popular, that AAR has become a synonym for any debriefing methodology (just like "Jeep" has become synonymous with any off-road vehicle.

The AAR method was developed by the American Marine’s training division, as part of their efforts of a way to improve soldiers' training abilities. At the end of each training day, even when the drill was spread out over several days, soldiers were asked four questions that are the basis for all AAR processes to this day:

  • What did you expect to happen? (linking to objectives)
  • What actually happened?
  • Why? (the gap between expectations and reality)
  • What do you recommend, based on this experience?

AAR became popular throughout the entire American military, and then became popular in the industrial field as well.

Its charm is its simplicity. It is easily operated, the questions are clear, and the process is promoting; it can be applied to events, processes and small projects while equally suits mega-projects; 'why' (the third stage) can be asked repeatedly, thus attaining a better understanding of the root causes all depending on the needs and the context.

It should be noted that the American Military has further developed the method in some places; it added more sections related to the questions' content and more instructions regarding how to organize the debriefing group, including how to produce orders, etc.

In my opinion, the original method, which is globally accepted, is the correct one. It can be added a preceding envelope to focus the debriefing process's direction or follow it up with tasks, lessons, and other people to inform. Nevertheless, it is better to leave the core of the process untouched: four simple, clear questions that focus the learning.

 

The article could seemingly end here. We described a simple yet impressive tool that is used globally and is recommended to Israeli mangers as well. Yet, a complementary method was developed in recent years: BAR, an acronym for Before Action Review.

BAR is not simply a complementary approach that simply involves executing AAR before the process; the BAR methodology was constructed as a mirror-model to the AAR method. The questions it includes are:

  1. What were your expected results? What indicators are related to these results?
  2. What challenges can we expect?
  3. What have we or others learned from similar situations?
  4. What will make it succeed this time?

Again, a sequence of clear and simple questions. The connection to AAR is twofold:

  1. Question 3 is directly linked to past debriefs. Parenthetically, this link prevents us from repeatedly inventing the wheel, which would raise serious reservations towards the entire concept of learning lessons.
  2. Secondly, the methodology: BAR's 'expected results' reflect AAR's 'what happened'; The previously learned lessons reflect the recommendation question; while BAR reviews expected success, BAR reviews the gap between this expectation and reality.

These elegant, simple and most importantly highly effective debriefing and briefing methodologies may be implemented separately yet are better synergized to assist us perform better as people, managers and organizations.

 
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