The value of after action reviews – post mortems

Post mortems, aka after-action reviews, make sense under the right circumstances, such as after major litigation (See my posts of Dec. 10, 2005 about litigation studies at BellSouth; April 2, 2005; April 27, 2005 on knowledge management; and April 7, 2006 on litigation.). The value to a law department of retrospective analysis of a process or transaction goes far beyond litigation.

According to article in MIT Sloan Mgt. Rev., Summer 2006 at 31 by Salvatore Parise, Rob Cross and Thomas H. Davenport, it is one technique that can help to mitigate the loss of an experienced lawyer. “The typical approach is to capture and store what a departing person knows by codifying electronic files and reports, conducting subject-matter interviews and capturing lessons learned or best practices from projects in which the employee played a lead role.”

The authors write that an “after-action review — detailed, illustrative and analytical conversations that can help call attention to and codify tacit knowledge of what went right (and wrong) on a project” (at 34) help immensely. Done thoroughly, a post mortem takes time and fought, usually from people at a level where time is highly valued. But the payoff from the knowledge that can come from a post mortem, such as tacit learning, guidelines, checklists and process improvements, supports doing more of them.

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