How to Write an Action Plan
The term ‘action plan’ is used within project management to describe a thorough breakdown of a project or task. A well-written action plan will include:
- Each step required
- The goal to be achieved for each step and overall
- Each person’s responsibilities within the plan
- Budgets for each section of the plan, as well as overall cost estimates
- A breakdown of the deadlines for each section
Whereas a to do list or overall target may give generalised information regarding what a project requires, an action plan goes into much more detail, meaning that everybody involved in a project will have all of the information that they need to complete a task in one document.
A clear, concise action plan will show each person involved what their responsibilities are and when they need to be completed, providing an insight towards the team effort a project requires.
As each task within an action plan will have its own set of requirements and deadlines, it also helps to break down a large project into smaller, more manageable sections.
This can be motivating for team members who might otherwise feel overwhelmed with just one large task lacking the level of detail which would be included within an action plan.
Using an action plan can also be very helpful when parts of a project are being performed by staff members within different departments or areas of a business.
Each person will know what they are doing and how their action fits within the bigger picture. They will also be able to manage their time better as they will know exactly when their input towards a goal is required.
There are many different ways to write an action plan. The following points and examples are a general outline of useful things to include, which will help you decide how to approach writing your action plan in the best way for your individual requirements.
You must be clear regarding the plan’s objective. This way, everyone who reads the action plan will know what they are working towards.
For example, if the action plan has been written in order to complete a project, this should be relayed in the title or first points of the plan:
Action Plan – To create a new website with updated content for ABC
It is also sometimes useful to note where this plan fits within the rest of the company's objectives. This could be in regards to an annual or quarterly plan, or other long-term targets.
This is especially important if the action plan is being written for a project which is particularly long or will require input from a number of different departments or outside agencies.
It may be useful to brainstorm everything that needs to be done to complete the project so that you can clearly see the steps that must be achieved.
This can also help you to see parts of the project that could be grouped together or performed by the same person.
Advantages of this approach:
- People are able to easily find their role within the plan
- Smaller tasks can help to motivate people as it will seem less overwhelming
- Setting smaller time targets will make it easier to see whether or not a project is staying on schedule
If you know that one section will require help from an outside agency, then make sure that it is scheduled into the action plan.
Likewise, if there will be a need for specific types of equipment or technology, then this should be added into the relevant section of the plan.
A project involving updating a company’s website may involve hiring a copywriter to update the written information.
Making sure that this is specified at the beginning of the writing stage of the website project will ensure that it is noticed by the appropriate person to recruit the writer.
Large building projects will have a variety of smaller sections involved in creating the finished result. Some of these will require the use of specialised tools, which may need to be sourced.
Specifying this in the action plan will save unnecessarily lost time as employees will know what they need before they start that particular section of the project.
Some action plans will require the whole team to be available at all times. Others will require specialised staff members for short periods of time.
It is important to note down exactly who you need and when, so that any individuals who are not needed for the entire project can schedule their time and create availability when they are needed.
During a project to create a new website, outside agencies may be used, such as content writers and graphic designers.
These individuals will not be required throughout the entire project, so it is important to state when their input will be required to ensure their schedules align with yours and there will be no delays due to miscommunication about dates.
By making sure each section’s objectives are specified, team members will know if they are doing the right things and working to fulfill the brief.
This will save time and avoid mistakes being made as everyone will know what it is that they need to do for their particular section of the project to be completed.
- If the section’s target is to conduct market research, then the objective would be to find out what it is that a consumer is wanting from a product.
- If the section’s target is to reduce the time between a customer ordering and the product’s delivery, then the objective could be to hire more staff in order to fulfill orders or offer current staff members the opportunity of overtime hours.
- If the section target is to write new content for a company’s website, then the objective would specify which pages need to be completed as well as the required information and word counts.
Breaking a project into smaller, bite-size chunks will make it feel more manageable and less overwhelming to the staff members involved.
Rather than seeing one large, and perhaps daunting, task, they will instead see a series of smaller tasks that can be approached methodically until the final result is accomplished.
Another reason to break down a large project into smaller sections with interim deadlines is that it gives staff members who are not required for the whole time the opportunity to schedule other tasks and so accomplish more.
If there was just one large deadline, then they may clear their diaries for the project and only be needed for a week or two, meaning that other tasks are left waiting needlessly.
If you know that you will only require the work of a graphic designer for two weeks in the middle of a six week project, specifying this on the action plan will allow them to schedule their time and complete other tasks when they are not required, increasing overall productivity.
Third, by creating smaller deadlines, it will help to keep the overall project on target.
If team members know that they only have a limited amount of time to complete one section before the next one needs to begin, then they are more likely to work at a pace which ensures that their section is completed on time.
At times, this may mean that they finish ahead of schedule and this ‘gained time’ can then be used if another section of the project overruns; essentially ensuring that the project can finish on time, even with unforeseen delays.
A generalised outline may simply state that a project needs to be completed by a specified date.
This could look like:
|Project start date||11th August|
|Project completion date||30th September|
An action plan will break down the project into much smaller chunks, each with their own deadline.
This could look like:
|Project start date||11th August|
|Phase 1 completion due||18th August|
|Phase 2 completion due||1st September|
|Phase 3 completion due||15th September|
|Project completion date||30th September|
This could be software needed for accessing the action plan itself or something which will be required during the project.
It is vital that everyone involved in the project knows whether they need to access a specific website or app – you do not want half your team working in Google Docs and the other in Basecamp.
Checking this at the start of a project can help to avoid unnecessary delays along the line where somebody could perhaps miss a notification as they lacked access to the relevant software.
This is especially important if there are sections of the project that will require input from outside agencies, as they may not automatically have access to the same documents that internal team members would have.
If you would usually communicate with your team via Zoom or Microsoft Teams, then it is vital that everyone has been included in the relevant groups and meetings as well as any email briefs sent out.
People are less likely to read a long, drawn-out action plan when they are busy and have other things which they also need to focus on.
Making sure that the plan is easy-to-read and effectively presented means that people are able to quickly look at it, find what they are required to do and begin far sooner than if it were dense and full of redundancies.
Consider formatting the action plan as a series of bullet points, a flow chart or a table that specifies each section of the project.
These formats are much easier to read than a long-winded, complicated word document and will encourage you to keep the information concise and to the point.
- Be concise
- Note down everything needing to be done
- Make sure each project section’s objective is clear, so that everyone knows what they need to do to complete their tasks
- Keep time goals realistic
- Make sure that everyone has or will have everything they will need
- Remember to mark things as completed once they are done to avoid accidental repetition
- Regularly review how well the project is following the plan and whether changes need to be made
It is easy to underestimate the value that an action plan can add to your project. A well-written action plan can help you to set realistic goals and work more efficiently.
Having smaller projects within the action plan, in addition to one overall target, will help team members to know exactly what they need to do and when, leading to better time management in their other projects as well as the one relevant to the action plan.
A good action plan can also help to highlight the strengths and weaknesses within a team or the approach to a project; showing where improvements need to be made and making it easy to see which approaches work best. This is then advantageous in the future when new projects are launched and further action plans need to be written.