30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Do an After Action Review

MagnifyingGlassThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Do an After Action Review.

After Action Reviews were originally done by the military, but now carry over into many different situations where one desires to improve performance. Essentially, an After Action Review provides a great feedback method — for a contester — to determine what could have been done better before, during, and after the contest.

While there is extensive documentation on how to conduct an After Action Review (for example, this “technical guidance” PDF file from the US AID organization), the review really boils down to answering the following questions:

  1. What was expected to happen? This is where the importance of some level of goals for a contest is needed. Whether the goals are oriented to number of stations and multipliers worked or for non-contest oriented work, having an objective for the contest is the basis of knowing what was expected.
  2. What actually occurred? At the end of the contest, where did we end up in comparison to the goals we had for this particular contest? This is not the events of the contest, but simply a comparison of we wanted “X” and we ended up at “Y” — so how close were we?
  3. What went well, and why? Here we analyze the events of the contest to figure out what went well and why. For example, we moved to 20-meters at EU sunrise and enjoyed a two hour run. The why was because we didn’t wait to change bands; we moved away from 40-meters to twenty right at EU sunrise to get there at the beginning of the opening.
  4. What can be improved, and how? Here we try and figure out what needs to be better next time. Perhaps it wasn’t testing the antennas before the contest and we found a short in the cable to the beam, or not reading the contest rules before the contest, or not getting enough sleep to really operate 80-meters as a single band. Whatever it was, this is the place to note the improvements.

What went well and what needs to be improved should be noted so that these areas can be addressed for the next contest.

While this can seem to be overly formal (and it could be…), the idea here is to take some time after the contest while the events are fresh in our minds and write down the answers to these four questions. In doing so, you will improve your contesting experience — both performance and your enjoyment of the contest.

Scot, K9JY