How to Write an After Action Report

  Reviewed by: Jayne Thompson, LLB, LLM
  Written by: Heather Skyler      Updated October 25, 2018
Two businessmen meeting with technology.

An After Action Report (AAR) is a great tool to use for assessing team projects after they're completed. This type of report can be very short or quite lengthy, depending on the scope and timeframe of the project being analyzed, but no matter the length, the report always serves the same purpose: evaluation and improvement.

What Is An AAR?

Simply, it's a way of reflecting on a project after its completion. Sharing the results of your project, both positive and negative, can help future teams fulfill their own projects and avoid the pitfalls you encountered along the way. The aim is to maximize the learning from your work so you don't make the same mistakes twice. Every team member should contribute to the AAR; every voice counts.

What to Include in an AAR

Ideally, a group will work on an AAR as a team. After a project has been completed, the team should gather as soon as possible to go over what went right, what went wrong and what could be improved upon. Here are some of the questions that should be asked and answered for an AAR:

  1. What was supposed to be achieved by this project?
  2. What was actually achieved?
  3. Why are there differences? 
  4. What aspects of the project work?
  5. What didn't work and why?
  6. What would you change if given a second chance?

The first three questions establish what actually happened during the project's execution and ensure all team members are in agreement. The last three questions give the team the opportunity to reflect on the value of the project and decide what needs improvement.

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Example of an AAR

Let's imagine a three-member team at a humane society were tasked with starting a weekly email newsletter. They took three months to find a platform, develop content ideas and write the first two newsletters. Now they have gathered to assess the project and write up an AAR for their manager. This will help the team to assess if any changes should be made moving forward. It will also give the manager an idea of the project's status and success thus far.

Summary of the Project:

We were tasked with developing and launching a weekly email newsletter for the humane society. After researching different content creation and email newsletter platforms, we chose X because it was inexpensive yet suited our needs. Our initial email list consists of 5,000 names that we gathered at the community event this summer.

We made a list of three topics we plan to cover each week in our newsletter: Pets for Adoption, Caring for Your Pets and Pet Spotlight. Under each topic, we will have a short story and photos. Because the primary purpose of the newsletter is to increase adoption rates, we have tailored our topics to this need.

We have written two complete newsletters and sent them out to the 5,000 subscribers to our email list. In the last week, adoptions have increased 5 percent as a direct result.

Areas of Improvement

  • We need to task another team member with copy editing each newsletter because errors were missed.
  • We want to improve photo quality and plan to include a camera in our budget.
  • We plan to create an official survey for adopters in order to verify whether or not the newsletter is the cause of increased adoptions. We based our assessment on word of mouth alone.   

As you can see, this AAR is quite short but it outlines what has been accomplished as well as specific areas for improvement. This AAR would be given to the manager for future reference and review.

About the Author

Heather Skyler is a business journalist and editor who has written for wide variety of publications, including Newsweek.com, The New York Times and Delta's SKY magazine. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Miami University and a master's degree in writing from the University of Washington in Seattle. Before writing for a variety of publications, she taught business writing in Seattle.

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