Continuous Improvement Infused in a Veteran’s DNA

Maintaining the status quo with a “This is the way we’ve always done it” philosophy is a recipe for disaster in today’s global market, where customers can get something better, faster, or cheaper in record time. It’s the companies with a strategy for continuous improvement that stay one step ahead of the curve, and military veterans can help them remain there.

Originally developed by the Army but used in every military branch, an after-action review (AAR) is a structured debriefing process that involves all ranks after an event or exercise. The review analyzes what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better. The AAR mirrors principles of Lean Six Sigma and Kaizen, a Japanese term for continuous improvement, and can be applied to virtually any process or industry. AARs can last hours or take just a few minutes and can be scaled for situation or event. Large AARs have set itineraries complete with slides and briefings by senior commanders. Whatever the size, it’s important to note that after-action reports don’t live in the past. Their purpose is to propel lessons learned into a plan going forward.

Heidi Miller is the Director of Military and Spouse Career Resources at Bradley-Morris/RecruitMilitary, and a graduate of the United States Military Academy. She spent six years in the Army working in administration and frequently used AARs to improve outcomes. “You’re a jack of all trades when you’re in the military, and one my areas of responsibility was running a live fire range, which meant coordinating a lot of moving pieces,” she recalled. “The first range I ran wasn’t 100% effective. It was clear that things were out of alignment and we needed to refine the process.”

Miller met with key stakeholders – in her case, her company commander, first sergeant, platoon sergeant, and range NCOs – after the event. “We realized that we hadn’t cross-coordinated as effectively as we could have,” she said. “The guys at the range tower had not arrived on time. We were expecting people to qualify more quickly than they did, and so we ran out of ammunition. We synced up, refined our timeline, and held a rehearsal before the next event. The second range went much more smoothly.”

Constantly tweaking performance assures that small mistakes don’t morph into larger and more costly ones. That’s why the business equivalent of an after-action report can lead to leaner, meaner processes with less room for error. And hiring veterans who arrive equipped to lead them is a boon for any organization’s bottom line.


by: Katie Becker