After Action Review

I want to learn from a project...
by analyzing what worked and what didn’t

Level of Involvement: Easy Tool

This tool helps you review the phases of your project and identify what worked and what didn’t.


What is it?

The After Action Review is a simple way of identifying and recording the lessons that you have learned as a result of your project. This is important because it captures knowledge that can be used again by you or other project managers who will be implementing similar work in the future.

Without a system to capture the end of project learning, your organization will reinvent the wheel each time a decision is made to pursue a similar project!

How do I use it?

Ideally you will have already tracked lessons learned as they occurred during the project Design, Planning and Implementation phases. The best tool for this is to keep a Lessons Learned log that you can now draw on to complete your After Action Review.

Teamwork: Ask your team and other internal and external project stakeholders to join you for this learning activity. Keep the discussion quick and open, and don’t let it fall into deep thinking or discussion. Make sure that participants have a copy of the Project Plan (Gantt Chart) for reference and compare this with reality as you work through each of these questions, capturing outputs on a flipchart:

What did we set out to do?

What did we achieve? (facts rather than opinions)

What went well? Why?

What could have gone better?

What prevented us from doing more?

What can we learn from this?

Amira from UNITAS involved people from her team, partner organizations and the community in this meeting. She also brought in her line manager (the overall Program Manager) so that she could participate in the discussion. The meeting went well and Amira found that she was able to gather information quickly at a really important time, before some of the learning had been forgotten.

Thank you: She also used it as an opportunity to say her formal thanks to everyone who had been involved in the project, the management of which was transitioning to the partner organizations. This involved recognizing the efforts of her team, and acknowledging the contribution of other stakeholders – individuals and groups – who were crucial for project success.

Concluding a project in this way is important because it gives you the opportunity to present your organization in a professional and positive way. The benefits are that external stakeholders appreciate their involvement and this opens the doors to future relationships or projects in the same area.

When do I use it?

You have reached the end of your project and need to review learning moments in a timely way, before some of the lessons are forgotten. The After Action Review is an important document for your Project File, capturing the history of the project for others to use in the future.

All NGOs and donors require projects to be evaluated, the impact of which is often published in Annual Reviews and other external documents. Donors often make future funding decisions based on the evaluation report of a previous project. They are also interested in ensuring that your learning is disseminated so that other organizations in the same sector can benefit from your experiences.

Who is involved?

It is important to include a broad range of perspectives in your Review activity, so choose participants that you know will provide this. It’s also best to include both internal and external stakeholders.

Tips:

Make sure that your Review is filed along with other project documents in a safe and easily accessible place, and distribute your learning to others in your internal and external network.