What is an Action Plan?
Definition: An action plan is a detailed outline that describes the necessary steps to accomplish certain goal. It is a tool that contains all the pending activities that must be performed in order to complete a task or a project.
What Does Action Plan Mean?
These steps are part of an strategic plan where objectives are previously set. The activities described in the action plan are determined by deconstructing these objectives into a series of small tasks that must be completed to finish the entire project. These plans often describe details such as the nature of each activity, their correspondent time frame or due dates, the individual responsible to deliver the expected result and the resources required to complete each task.
Companies normally incorporate auditing procedures which ensure that the project’s progress can be properly assessed as a whole or individually on a per-activity basis. This includes the creation of metrics that are useful to determine performance levels. A well known technique called SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-based), can serve as a guideline for the project manager to produce adequate metrics for each task. Monitoring the progress of this action plan is crucial to achieve the company’s objectives.
An action plan is a checklist for the steps or tasks you need to complete in order to achieve the goals you have set.
It’s an essential part of the strategic planning process and helps with improving teamwork planning. Not only in project management, but action plans can be used by individuals to prepare a strategy to achieve their own personal goals as well.
Components of an action plan include:
- A well-defined description of the goal to be achieved.
- Tasks/ steps that need to be carried out to reach the goal.
- People who will be in charge of carrying out each task.
- When will these tasks be completed (deadlines and milestones).
- Resources needed to complete the tasks.
- Measures to evaluate progress.
What’s great about having everything listed down on one location is that it makes it easier to track progress and effectively plan things out.
An action plan is not something set in stone. As your organization grows, and surrounding circumstances change, you will have to revisit and make adjustments to meet the latest needs.
Why You Need an Action Plan?
Sometimes businesses don’t spend much time on developing an action plan before an initiative, which, in most cases, leads to failure. If you haven’t heard, “failing to plan is planning to fail” said Benjamin Franklin supposedly once.
Planning helps you prepare for the obstacles ahead and keep you on track. And with an effective action plan, you can boost your productivity and keep yourself focused.
Here are some benefits of an action plan you should know:
- It gives you a clear direction. As an action plan highlights exactly what steps to be taken and when they should be completed, you will know exactly what you need to do.
- Having your goals written down and planned out in steps will give you a reason to stay motivated and committed throughout the project.
- With an action plan, you can track your progress toward your goal.
- Since you are listing down all the steps you need to complete in your action plan, it will help you prioritize your tasks based on effort and impact.
Producing an action plan can be beneficial not only for individual basis but also for businesses. For example, it allows project managers or any member of a group to monitor their progress and take each task step-by-step, therefore allowing them to handle the project efficiently. The advantage of doing this is, it allows you to execute a structured plan for the end goal you intend to achieve. Furthermore, it provides the team with appropriate foundations, therefore prioritising the amount of time you spend on each task. This will then prevent any sidetracking that may occur. Lastly, it creates a bond within a team, as each member is aware of their individual role, as well as providing necessary information to ensure success of the project.
When using action plans limitations will need to be considered. Firstly, each member of the team will need to be allocated individual roles and tasks which will require completion by a set date. This can be demanding for some, due to coping with the stress and distractions that may occur. Another issue is not being guided thoroughly and effectively, leading to the lack of effort and passion a member has for the project. In addition to this, if the communication throughout the team is non-existent, key information will not reach members of the group, causing lack of confidence. Lastly failing to obtain the goal you set to reach can lead to frustration and in turn the planning would have been a waste of time. There can be more addition to this article.
To benefit from risk management action plans, you need to examine certain possibilities that could affect the process, such as observing any threats and correcting them. For example, key aspects of risk management are to ensure you allocate members specific roles and monitor the risks throughout, to ensure tasks are completed with efficiency. This being a major factor, as evaluating what happens during and after the project, will allow finding the positive and negative elements of each stage in the planning, providing you the ability to develop on the risks further.
How to Write an Action Plan | Best Practices
From the looks of it, creating an action plan seems fairly easy. But there are several important steps you need to follow with caution in order to get the best out of it. Here’s how to write an action plan explained in 6 easy steps.
Step 1: Define your end goal
If you are not clear about what you want to do and what you want to achieve, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Planning a new initiative? Start by defining where you are and where you want to be.
Solving a problem? Analyze the situation and explore possible solutions before prioritizing them.
Then write down your goal. And before you move on to the next step, run your goal through the SMART criteria. Or in other words, make sure that it is
- Specific – well-defined and clear
- Measurable – include measurable indicators to track progress
- Attainable – realistic and achievable within the resources, time, money, experience, etc. you have
- Relevant – align with your other goals
- Timely – has a finishing date
Use this SMART goals worksheet to simplify this process. Share it with others to get their input as well.
And refer to our easy guide to the goal-setting process to learn more about setting and planning your goals.
Step 2: List down the steps to be followed
The goal is clear. What exactly should you do to realize it?
Create a rough template to list down all the tasks to be performed, due dates and people responsible.
It’s important that you make sure that the entire team is involved in this process and has access to the document. This way everyone will be aware of their roles and responsibilities in the project.
Make sure that each task is clearly defined and is attainable. If you come across larger and more complex tasks, break them down to smaller ones that are easier to execute and manage.
Step 3: Prioritize tasks and add deadlines
It’s time to reorganize the list by prioritizing the tasks. Some steps, you may need to prioritize as they can be blocking other sub-steps.
Add deadlines, and make sure that they are realistic. Consult with the person responsible for carrying it out to understand his or her capacity before deciding on deadlines.
Step 4: Set Milestones
Milestones can be considered mini goals leading up to the main goal at the end. The advantage of adding milestones is that they give the team members to look forward to something and help them stay motivated even though the final due date is far away.
Start from the end goal and work your way back as you set milestones. Remember not to keep too little or too much time in between the milestone you set. It’s a best practice to space milestones two weeks apart.
Step 4: Identify the resources needed
Before you start your project, it’s crucial to ensure that you have all the necessary resources at hand to complete the tasks. And if they are not currently available, you need to first make a plan to acquire them.
This should also include your budget. You can assign a column of your action plan to mark the cost of each task if there are any.
Step 5: Visualize your action plan
The point of this step is to create something that everyone can understand at a glance and that can be shared with everyone.
Whether your action plan comes in the shape of a flowchart, Gantt chart, or table, make sure that it clearly communicates the elements we have identified so far – tasks, task owners, deadlines, resources, etc.
This document should be easily accessible to everyone and should be editable.
Step 6: Monitor, evaluate and update
Allocate some time to evaluate the progress you’ve made with your team.
You can mark tasks that are completed as done on this final action plan, bringing attention to how you’ve progressed toward the goal.
This will also bring out the tasks that are pending or delayed, in which case you need to figure out why and find suitable solutions. And then update the action plan accordingly.