An action plan outlines precisely how you’re planning to accomplish your goals. It’s the perfect way to approach goals systematically and keep your team on target. In this article, we will cover how to create an action plan in six steps and how to implement it successfully. Plus, learn more about the differences between action plans, project plans, and to-do lists.
It can feel good to make goals. After all, you’re defining what you want to accomplish. But goals won’t do much without clear action steps. An action plan is a popular project management technique that lists your action steps so you know exactly how you’re going to accomplish your goals.
We’re going to show you how to create this clear roadmap step by step and other tools you should utilize to get the most out of your action plan. Let’s dive in.
An action plan is a list of tasks or steps you need to complete to achieve your goals. An effective action plan works like a management plan for your company’s initiatives, outlining the steps you need to take to make these larger goals a success. Once you go through the goal-setting process, create an action plan with specific tasks and timeframes to reach each goal.Create an action plan template
An action plan is useful for anyone who needs a step-by-step planning process. When you create an action plan, you detail exactly what actions you'll take to accomplish your project goals. These plans can help you organize your to-dos and ensure you have the necessary information and resources to accomplish your goals.
Action plans are often used in strategic planning. Strategic plans are three to five year goals that your entire organization is working towards. Once you’ve created a strategic plan, you can use an action plan to outline how you will execute your strategic goals. By doing so, you’re providing your team with a framework to keep track of all the individual tasks they need to complete in order to reach the overarching strategic goal.
But you can create action plans for more than just strategic planning. Use this tool to reach any specific goals in a systematic way. Try setting up:
Business action plan
Marketing action plan
Corrective action plan
Sales action plan
Project action plan
Personal development action plan
Regardless of the type of action plan you create, make sure you create it in task management software. That way, you can easily share action items and timelines with your team to track progress. Instead of manual status updates and unclear deliverables, your team has one central source of truth for everything they need to do in order to hit their goals.
Now let’s get into how you can create an action plan that increases your team’s efficiency and accountability.
When it comes to setting goals, clarity is the single most important quality. With the SMART goal method, your goal is clearly defined and attainable. Set specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound goals to benefit from this tactic.
For example, your goal could be to deliver your current project (measurable) in four months (time-bound) without overspending (specific). Assuming this goal is both achievable and realistic based on your available resources, it’s a great SMART goal to set for yourself.Read: Write better SMART goals with these tips and examples
Now that your goal is clearly defined and written down, you’ll want to identify the steps you have to take to reach it. Identify all of the tasks that you and your team need to complete to reach milestones and, eventually, the main objective.
Here are a few action plan examples with tasks for different kinds of goals:
Goal: Expand team from seven to nine team members by June.
Meet with Human Resources to discuss the recruitment campaign.
Create a template project to track candidates.
Schedule three interviews per week.
Goal: Select and onboard new work management software to the entire company by the end of Q2.
Apply for the budget.
Create a roll-out plan for Q2.
Schedule training for team members.
Goal: Host 5k charity run in May to raise $15,000 for the local food bank.
Find volunteers and determine responsibilities
Prepare marketing materials and PR plans
Once you’ve outlined all of your tasks, you can allocate resources like team members, project budget, or necessary equipment. Whether it’s assigning team members to certain tasks, applying for a budget, or gathering helpful tools—now is the time to plan and prepare.
Sometimes, you can’t allocate all of your resources before you put your action plan in motion. Perhaps you have to apply for funding first or need executive approval before you can move on with a task. In that case, make the resource an action item in your plan so you can take care of it later.
When your team is clear on their priorities, they know what work to do first and what work they can reschedule if necessary. No action plan is set in stone, so the best way to empower your team is to let them know what tasks have a high priority and which ones are a bit more flexible.
To make this clear, sort all of your action items by priority and sequence:
Priority: Important and less important tasks.
Sequence: Order in which tasks have to be completed so others can start.
When you’re organizing and prioritizing your action items, you’ll notice that some action items are dependent on others. In other words, one task can’t begin until the previous task is completed. Highlight these dependencies and factor the sequence into your prioritization. This reduces bottlenecks, removing obstacles that would make a less important action item delay a high-priority item.Read: Understanding dependencies in project management
When your team knows what they're working towards, they have the context to effectively prioritize work and the motivation to get great work done. Team members tend to be more motivated when they directly understand how their work is contributing to larger goals.
To engage your teammates from the get go, assign deadlines to all action items and define milestones. Milestones mark specific points along your project timeline that identify when activities have been completed or when a new phase starts
Create a timeline or Gantt chart to get a better overview of your prioritized tasks, milestones, and deadlines. Your timeline also serves as a visual way to track the start and end dates of every task in your action plan. You can use it as a baseline to make sure your team stays on track.Read: How to set, achieve, and celebrate project milestones
Your ability to stay on top of and adapt to changes is what makes you a great project manager. It’s crucial that you monitor your team’s progress and revise the plan when necessary.
Luckily, your action plan isn’t set in stone. The best way to track potentially changing priorities or deadlines is to use a dynamic tool like a work management software. That way, you can update to-dos and dependencies in real time, keep your team on the same page, and your action plan moving.Read: What are after action reviews (AARs)?Create an action plan template
So how exactly does an action plan differ from all these other plans and lists? To clear this up once and for all, we’re going to explain what these plans are and when to use which plan to maximize your team’s efforts.
You may have heard the terms action plan and plan B used interchangeably. But in fact, an action plan and plan B are two completely different types of plans. Here’s how to tell them apart:
Your action plan outlines actions in much detail so you and your team know exactly what steps to take to reach your goal.
A plan B is a secondary action plan, an alternative strategy, that your team can apply if your original plan fails. Whether that’s because of an internal issue or an external factor—having a plan B is a great way to be prepared for the worst case scenario.
A project plan is a bit more complicated than an action plan. Project plans are blueprints of the key elements your team needs to accomplish to successfully achieve your project goals. A project plan includes seven elements:
Goals and project objectives
Stakeholders and roles
Once you’ve created a project plan, use an action plan to outline and document how your team will execute your tasks and hit your goals. This will ensure that everyone on your team knows what their responsibilities are and what to get done by when.
A to-do list is typically used to write down single tasks that don’t necessarily lead to one common goal. To-do lists can change daily and are much less organized than action plans. An action plan will follow specific steps and include tasks that all lead to the completion of a common goal.
You know how to create an action plan, but in order to implement it successfully, you need to use the right tools and use them correctly. Here are our top five tips to ensure your action plan is effective:
Streamline your action plan by keeping all of your tasks and timelines in one central source of truth. Task management software, like Asana, is perfect for your action plan because it allows you to keep track of pending tasks, declare task ownership, assign dependencies, and connect with your team in real time or asynchronously.
Create or use a template that lists all the action items with notes, status, priority, and ownership. When you create a template that fits your project type, you can reuse it time and time again.
Make sure all action items are time-bound and that you assign dependencies. That way, your team can react when an item is ready for them and easily track what other items depend on theirs.
When action items are completed, check them off! Make sure it’s visible to everyone and happens in real time so the person responsible for the next action item can start their work as soon as possible.
If you run into issues or delays, talk to your team to uncover potential bottlenecks and find solutions that keep the action plan on track. You can add notes directly into your action plan or set up calls to discuss more complex issues.Read: What is a bottleneck in project management? 3 ways to identify them
Like Benjamin Franklin once said: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Creating an action plan helps you stay focused, on track, and brings your goals to life.
Plan to succeed with a structured action plan and helpful tools like Asana’s task management software. Connect and align with your team in a central source of truth while staying flexible enough to revise your action plan when necessary.Create an action plan template