What’s Your After Action Review?

Posted 07.17.2008

U.S. and Iraqi Soldiers gather around for an after-action review after an improvised explosive device reaction training exercise July 2, 2008, on Camp Echo, Iraq.

For years, the U.S. Army has conducted a process of continuous improvement based on systematically learning from experience. The process is called an "after action review" and it involves a rigorous analysis of what worked and what didn’t work in an engagement. Those lessons are then shared so everyone knows what it is that they should keep doing, start doing and stop doing in future engagements.

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius tells us what the Army has learned in a massive after-action review of its performance in Iraq. In a just published study called “On Point II,” the Army concludes that in preparing for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it was positioned for “regime removal,” but not “regime change.”Without such a plan or capacity, the Army concludes that it was literally in a case of “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there."

Ignatius points out that in contrast to many civilian leaders who have been engaging in the blame game over what went wrong in Iraq, the Army had to figure out how to improve the situation. Much of the work was in shifting from a hard power to a soft power approach to winning over the Iraqis. As Ignatius notes, the ability to make this shift is rooted in Army culture and is encouraged not just through after action reviews but from ongoing professional education for its officers. They are encouraged to question their assumptions.

In an economic environment that is changing rapidly, it becomes more important than ever to step back and assess what’s working and what’s needed next. What are your opportunities to conduct “after action reviews” with your organization? If you have engaged in a process like this, what has it done for you?