The Book Look: After Action Review – Continuous Improvement Made Easy

COL03x - feature image already at 300x300Sometimes we read a book that contains fundamental yet powerful ideas. Ideas that we might have been aware of, and maybe even applied informally at one point, but needed to see it in print to make it real and consciously use it in practice.

For example, when I first read the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” there were several times during the read where I heard myself say things like “I know this…at least I think I do…but now I know it better or how to apply it more effectively.” Another book that I would put in this same category, which just got released is Artie Mahal’s After Action Review: Continuous Improvement Made Easy (

Artie’s main idea is that once we complete an activity, if we assess what went well and what could have gone better, the next time we complete the same or similar mahalactivity, it will be more successful. This book summarizes his approach to assessing an activity after it occurs to make sure it gets done better the next time around. He shares a technique called the After Action Review, which can be done either formally or informally after completing an activity. There are lots of templates he includes in the book to enhance this continuous improvement technique.

Artie weaves the AAR technique into the broader technique of facilitation and also touches a bit on data and process. Artie is a very skilled facilitator with a strong background on both data and process sides. He is the author of the bestseller Facilitator’s and Trainer’s Toolkit (, and has taught facilitation at many of the Data Modeling Zone conferences (

Chapter 1 covers basic facilitation skills needed to conduct an AAR, which includes active listening, questioning, information gathering and analysis, public speaking, presenting, intervening, and managing group dynamics. I like Artie’s technique of the Listening Ladder[1] to remind us how to be good listeners:

Look Look at the person speaking to you. Make eye contact to express that you are interested in what the other person has to say.
Ask Ask questions. Ask follow-up open ended questions to comprehend the meaning of what is being said by the speaker.
Don’t Don’t interrupt or be interrupted. Ensure that the interruption is only for clarification of what has been said.
Don’t Don’t change the subject. You will get an indication to change the topic when the speaker is finished with one thought. Look for cues to transition to another topic.
Empathize Empathize with the speaker. Demonstrate this by a gesture such as “nodding your head” so that the speaker gets the message that you are interested in what is being said.
Respond Respond verbally and nonverbally. Through body language such as nodding your head, eye/eyebrow movements, acknowledge that you are just as engaged in the conversation as the speaker is. You can do this without interrupting the speaker by saying, “…I see…” or “…I understand…”

Chapter 2 explains the AAR in detail including its value proposition and frameworks. The three stages of AAR, Individual Reflections, Group Insights, and Recommended Improvements, are discussed.

Chapter 3 covers the informal AAR. My favorite template in this chapter is the Group Insights Template. This is a spreadsheet with two columns titled “I liked” and “I wish.”

Chapter 4 covers the formal AAR. There is more skill required and more steps needed to complete the formal AAR. Here is his comparison of when to use formal vs informal AAR[2]:

Informal Ad hoc (without much pre-work)ü  Can be done for any Activity of generally shorter duration such as staff meetings, problem solving sessions, and community eventsü  Someone with basic experience in group presentation/facilitation can conduct an AAR session with basic knowledge of the processü  Takes less time, usually anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of hoursü  Immediate improvement of ideas and opportunities for change can be gained
Formal Needs thorough planning and preparationü  Can be done for activities with bigger scope and of longer durations such as construction of a factory or a new product releaseü  Experienced facilitator with knowledge of AAR tool and process is requiredü  Takes time depending upon the scope of the activity, taking from one to three days of facilitation with about one week of planning and preparationü  While some quick wins can be identified immediately, the bigger improvement opportunities may take longer time due to feasibility studies prior to recommendation

I found this book to be a smooth read with many ideas that can be easily applied. Within the IT field, a number of these techniques are currently being applied within Agile, when Agile is done correctly.

Until the next column!

[1] After Action Review: Continuous Improvement Made Easy, Artie Mahal, Technics Publications, 2018.

[2] After Action Review: Continuous Improvement Made Easy, Artie Mahal, Technics Publications, 2018.

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Steve Hoberman

Steve Hoberman

Steve Hoberman has trained more than 10,000 people in data modeling since 1992. Steve is known for his entertaining and interactive teaching style (watch out for flying candy!), and organizations around the globe have brought Steve in to teach his Data Modeling Master Class, which is recognized as the most comprehensive data modeling course in the industry. Steve is the author of nine books on data modeling, including the bestseller Data Modeling Made Simple. Steve is also the author of the bestseller, Blockchainopoly. One of Steve’s frequent data modeling consulting assignments is to review data models using his Data Model Scorecard® technique. He is the founder of the Design Challenges group, Conference Chair of the Data Modeling Zone conferences, director of Technics Publications, and recipient of the Data Administration Management Association (DAMA) International Professional Achievement Award. He can be reached at

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