After Action Review

All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes. - Winston Churchill

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. - John Powell

After Action Reviews (aka postmortem reviews) provide an opportunity for people to pause and take a retrospective look at an event or set of events with the goal of continuous improvement.  This process is best managed by a facilitator, frequently a Quality Assurance representative.  An After Action Review is recommended after events such as:
  • a significant service disruption
  • a significant outage of a production system/application and the subsequent mitigation steps
  • a significant process lapse (frequently communication)
  • the deployment of a new system/application
  • a significant upgrade to an existing system/application
Since the goal of After Action Reviews is continuous improvement, things that should be covered include:
  • successes so that they can be repeated in the future
  • challenges and responses
    • could the problems have been anticipated and, if so, were there mitigation plans in place
    • were there deployment/support plans in place and, if so, were they followed
    • what unintended consequences ensued, how were they mitigated, could they have been avoided, and if so, how
  • action items
The following practices improve outcomes from an After Action Review meeting or informal discussions:
  • add action items to relevant groups' to-do lists and schedule follow-up
  • store After Action Review notes in a common accessible location (UNL ITS notes)
  • use a common template for After Action Review notes (example template)