After Action Assessments

P3 Stage 3: Perfect

I’m still not a lawyer, I’m still a race car driver. So let’s continue with the build out of our P3 theme (Plan|Perform|Perfect) by examining the last element: Perfect.

OK, the race is over, car and driver have returned safely. The immediate question is did I achieve the objective of the Plan? If that objective was to win, did I come in first or first in my class? If it was to improve my times or my consistency, did I do so? If it was to finally get the right “line” in turn 6, was I successful? If it was to test a new aero or suspension set up for the car, what happened?

Note that all of the above objectives are specific and measurable. We have data – both macro (finishing position, lap times) – and micro (acceleration, braking, speed, gearing, engine rpm, water temperature, oil pressure, etc for every second of the race). We have video shot from the car – – and perhaps from colleagues and competitors. We have tools to overlay the micro data with the video.

But before going to the micro data, we do an immediate review – a Hot Wash (see below) of the race in a discussion with the track support team and perhaps other racers. After that, well sit down and each of us talks though what happened, what we did, whether the Plan worked, changes to the Plan, unanticipated events and our reaction. We come to some initial conclusions about root causes and things that need to be emphasized and things that need to be changed.

After that, we begin the detailed analysis of the data to hone the recommendations into future actions. Do the checklists need to be changed? Does any equipment need to be replaced or modified? Does my driving technique and behavior need to be modified? We do all of this so that the next Plan will be better, safer, and more successful than the one we just executed.

To summarize, during the Perfect Stage I once again used our PRT approach:

  • Principle: We learn from our past – both to continue to use what works well and to change those things that we need to take a look at.
  • Rule: We review our performance during and after every project self-critically and neutrally. We do not assign blame but assume responsibility for our own performance.
  • Tools: We use the Hot Wash and Formal After Action

At ValoremNext, we use this same approach in the perfection stage of every project. And so can you. As with the other parts of P3, the Perfect stage is fully applicable to law departments. Here’s P3, Stage 3, R3.2 in a nutshell:

Review & Reflect – At the conclusion of each phase of a project and at the end of a project, the project team reflects on its execution. This is known as an After Action Assessment or A03. During the project, the tool used generally is a fast-track AO3 called a HotWash (listen to the Manager Tools podcast on this subject for more detail on the technique). The purpose is to quickly identify what went well (“W3”) and things the team needs to take a look at (“TALA”). The inquiry is not about solutions, it’s about identification for the project team leader to use as an input to modify the Plan or any processes used in the Plan. At the conclusion of a project, the review is done using a deeper dive AO3 tool. Here the project leader goes first talking about their own performance. All other team members use this self-critical process to get all possibilities on the table.

Revise – The team can then decide upon actions including process and behavior modification to ensure what went well keeps on going well and what needs to improve is actually improved. As in the case of the Plan phase, any actions must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based (“SMART”).

  • First, the environment plays out exactly according to Plan, and the Plan operates as expected;
  • Second, something anticipated by the Plan happens and a known alternative Plan is executed to react to that situation;
  • Third, something unanticipated by the Plan happens and an alternative is developed realtime to react to that situation. Note this may encompass an unanticipated flaw in the Plan as well as an unanticipated change to the operating environment.

Re-Deploy – The modified Plan is performed and the cycle continues until the Project is completed.

The Perfection Stage is almost as important as the Plan because this is where the failures in the planning process come to light. With that introspection and transparency, the next plan will be better than the last one. And this cycle of continuous improvement will continue. This post is shorter than the previous post about the Plan because in reality, execution or performance is the least important part of our P3 approach. A good Plan makes performance easier

On the other hand, you could forget about the perfection stage and just move on to the next emergency. After all, who’s got time for this AO3 stuff anyway? Besides, that self-critical soul searching is difficult – especially for the inhabitants of LawLand. Have you ever noticed that only others seem to make errors? If only everyone just did their jobs . . . . Well guess what, “everyone” includes each and every one of us.

You can implement what I’ve laid out above immediately. Try the Hot Wash process at the end of your team meetings. Try this perfect discipline and let me know how it works for you. Unlike my challenge to you in the previous 2 posts, I know this works even in LawLand and I know you’ll see the promise of and value in the P3 discipline of Plan|Perform|Perfect.

Preventing legal problems from ever occurring does not happen serendipitously.  It is a matter of design, intention and execution.  In Life at the Speed of Prevention, we will devote a number of posts to the design of a prevention program.  And I want to introduce two dominant topics in this post.

  1. A proper After Action Assessment program is the most important tool you can deploy to prevent problems from arising.

This sounds like a no-brainer.  I suspect many people will say they regularly do after actions.  But the adjective used, proper, is critical because the two subtopics are not natural, at least for lawyers.  The subtopics are:

  1. Proper After Action Assessments require an environment where people are free to admit mistakes.


If people feel compelled to lie or cover-up mistakes in order to avoid real or perceived recriminations, the A3 program is doomed by dishonesty.


  1. Proper After Action Assessments must focus on what was done or not done, not who did or did not do it. We use the short-hand “nameless and rankles” to describe this attribute.


  1. A proper After Action Assessment must be leveraged and require changes in behavior.

It accomplishes little if one person’s lessons are not widely shared.  Absent sharing, multiple people must experience the same problem so they can each learn to avoid the outcome that first person to learn the lesson experienced.  We call this “Leveraging Lessons Learned,” or L3.  The corollary of this topic is that for After Action Assessments, behavior must change.  The “same old same old” is not a change in behavior and wastes the power of A3s.

Each of these topics and subtopics will be explored as we move forward with this blog.  We hope you’ll contribute your insights to these posts so our discussion is robust and valuable.