Action Plan: what is and when to implement it (in Project Management and beyond)

action plan

How can you transform a vision into reality while preventing challenges and problems? By having a sound action plan.

Yeah, a sound action plan is a nice catch phrase, but what is it really? What is it for and how can you implement it?

Let’s see it in this article and start from the very beginning.

What is an action plan

An action plan is a checklist for any steps or activities you need to accomplish to achieve the goals you set.

It is an integral part of the strategic planning process and helps improve teamwork planning.

Action plans are not solely useful in project management, but can also be used by people to draw up a strategy to achieve their personal goals.

An action plan comprises:

  • A clearly defined description of the objective to be achieved
  • Tasks/steps that must be performed to achieve the goal
  • People who will be assigned to perform each task
  • When will these activities (deadlines and milestones) be completed?
  • Resources needed to complete activities
  • Measures to evaluate progress

The most useful thing about having a comprehensive list in one location is that it makes it easier to track progress and plan things effectively.

However, an action plan is not something carved in stone. As your organization grows and conditions change, you will need to review and tweak it to meet your newest needs.

Why you need an action plan

Sometimes companies don’t invest much time in developing an action plan before an initiative, which, in most cases, leads to failure.

Planning does, in fact, help you prepare for the possible obstacles and unforeseen events that will be found along the way. By having an effective action plan, you can increase productivity and stay focused on the goal even when negative events occur.

Here are some benefits of an action plan:

  • Provide clear direction: an action plan highlights exactly what steps need to be undertaken and when they should be completed.
  • Motivation: Having goals written and phased will give a reason to stay motivated and engaged throughout the project.
  • Analysis and monitoring: With an action plan, you can monitor your progress toward your goal.
  • Priority organization: given that an action plan lists all the steps that need to be completed, this will help to prioritize activities according to effort and impact.

the action plan

How to develop an action plan

Apparently, creating an action plan looks easy enough but there are several important steps that you need to carefully tackle to get the best out of it.

Here’s how to write an action plan in 6 steps.

1) Define your end goal: If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to do and achieve, failure will be unavoidable. So, the first step is to write down a definite end goal, ideally defining it according to the SMART criteria.

2) List the steps to follow: Now your goal is clear, but what exactly should you do to achieve it? This is where you create an initial rough list of all the tasks that need to be covered, the due dates and the people accountable. It is important that the entire team is involved in this step so that everyone is informed of their roles and responsibilities in the project. If some tasks are too large and complex, they can be split into smaller tasks that are easier to perform and manage.

3) Prioritize tasks and add deadlines: It’s time to rearrange your list by prioritizing tasks so that some assignments won’t block other processes. It is also time to add deadlines, making sure they are achievable. Sometimes in these cases it may be beneficial to speak directly with the person responsible for performing the task to understand their true capabilities before deciding on a deadline.

4) Set milestones: Milestones can be regarded as mini-goals that lead to your main goal. The benefit of adding milestones is that they give team members a sense of expectation and help them stay motivated.

5) Identify required resources: Before starting your project, it is essential to ensure that you have all the resources necessary to complete your tasks and if they are not currently available, make a plan to acquire them including a budget.

6) Visualize the action plan. The purpose of this step is to create something that everyone can understand at a glance and that can be shared with everyone. Regardless of whether the action plan takes the form of a flowchart, a Gantt diagram or a chart, the most important thing is that it clearly communicates the elements identified so far: activities, task leaders, milestones, resources, etc. Also, the action plan is a dynamic document that should be easily accessible to everyone.

7) Monitor, measure and update

Here you will assess your progress on a regular basis. You can tick off completed tasks, bringing attention to how you progressed toward the goal. This will also highlight outstanding or delayed activities, in which case you need to understand why and find appropriate solutions. Then, the action plan will be updated accordingly.

 

To reach a destination, you need to know how to get there, and to achieve a goal, you need a clear action plan.

This is exactly what a well-structured action plan provides: a clear path, how to get there, and the best possible results.

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