I was teaching a class and we were going over the After Action Review process. During the discussion I mentioned that question 1 – what was supposed to happen, was frequently tied to target setting. For example if the target was install 150 meters of pipe work, then one of the responses to question 1 would be, install 150 meters of pipe work. Then question 2, what actually happened, would review whether the target had been achieved or not. The AAR process is excellent in highlighting differences in perception of what was supposed to happen.
I also mentioned that some organizations had become very aware of this potential for misalignment in understanding of what happened so to avoid that they had introduced the ‘Before Action Review’ or BAR.
The BAR is used to identify what you want to happen before it happens and to ensure alignment between all the parties that will be involved in the activity. So in the example above the BAR would be used to ensure that everyone agreed that what was going to be done would be to install 150 meters of pipe work.
The following day I saw a great example of a situation that could potentially have been avoided if they had conducted a BAR.
I was sitting drinking coffee and the table faced out onto a delightful garden. The world was a pleasant place, good coffee, good book and warm sunshine. Two gardeners arrived and started to remove some small bushes and replace them with a different variety, in simple terms they were replacing green bushes with red bushes. This went on for a while and they were almost finished when some arrived and immediately got upset. I didn’t understand the language but the gestures were enough to let me know he wasn’t a happy bunny! More gestures followed with the gardeners leaning on their shovels then another couple of people arrived. We now had the ‘workmen’ and the ‘suits’ in a ratio of 2:6. The suits were now gesturing amongst themselves. At a rough guess I would suspect the gardeners had dug up the wrong bushes.
I have to say the ‘suits’ gesturing to each other was highly amusing, lots of energy, lots of passion but we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Eventually one of the suits seemed to bring things to a loud and dramatic conclusion, he walked off, the other suits walked off in different directions and the gardeners were left to themselves again. I went back to my coffee and read my book.
If only they had conducted a BAR, they would have been clear on what they were supposed to do before they started doing it.