Examples of action plans and best practices for successful projects

Jan 11st, 2018

You want to ensure that ideas are turned into concrete initiatives, regardless of the service they are related to within the company? Then you need action plans!

Action plans are indeed the interface between the analytical reflection phase, and the operational implementation phase. Action plans can either be related to quality, sales and marketing, HR or logistics. They can even be used, during the yearly performance reviews with team workers to set, schedule and follow up actions to be taken throughout the year.

While action plans are commonly used business tools, issues can arise when it’s time to put them to use: communication problems, lack of visibility over the whole set of actions, stalled projects, etc.

Find out some tips and examples to successfully manage action plans.

What is an action plan?

Before you start drawing up your action plan, it’s important to keep in mind what is an action plan and what it’s not.

To-do lists, action plans and projects: the differences

These three frequent terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

A to-do list is a list of tasks to achieve that are not necessarily related to each other.

An action plan is a set of tasks that will result in a deliverable. These actionable steps are clear and there is little uncertainty.

A project is a set of tasks to be performed in order to produce a deliverable. It involves the use of a specific methodology to determine the best way to achieve the project deliverable. In this case, there are many assumptions to validate, uncertainties and risks of failure.

An action plan is therefore not merely a to-do list, since action items are correlated and all lead to the same objective, regardless of what it is.

An action plan is not a project, and is distinguished by the fact that there is no uncertainty, or at least that uncertainty is controlled.

Now that this is clear, here are a few tips to define and follow an action plan effectively.

How to define an action plan

The hard work lies in coming up with the very first words and initial ideas. In short, starting from a blank page. Once this is done, the work doesn’t stop there. Never underestimate the implementation and especially the tracking.

Action plan: where to start

Clearly state the issue

The 5 Whys technique (iteratively asking “Why?”) is useful to consider for this step. If the issue is not clearly stated, the solution may not be the right one, and the action items will be useless. This step is crucial for success and should be given the utmost priority.

Define the broad outlines

It is time to define your action plan. The 5 W’s approach (Who? When? Where? What? Why?) will be privileged in this step. Responding to these major questions will better identify and clarify the situation as help find the right answers.

Putting the action plan in context

To give meaning to the action plan it needs to be placed in the context of the business. This means answering the “why” question of the 5 W’s.

Successful action plans require human action

Behind any action plan are men and women:

  • A person who experiences the problem (a dissatisfied customer, a source of irritation for an employee, etc.),
  • A manager responsible for resolving the problem who is accountable to the person experiencing the problem,
  • Employees handling the various action items in accordance with the commitments their manager has undertaken for the person experiencing the problem.

By bringing together the team members (who need to understand and be on board with the context or proposal) in a launch meeting (or a stand-up meeting), they will be able to collectively define the various actionable steps to accomplish the expected deliverables.

While this step may seem time consuming, it brings people on board and fosters engagement among workers delegated to carry out the tasks and to coordinate amongst each other to achieve the deliverable as a team. Otherwise we’d be getting a to-do list or even a Christmas list for Santa Claus… The time lost at the start will be greatly offset by the time gained in the execution of the action plan.

Neither too much nor too little

One of the major issues with action plans is the granularity of tasks: having too much or insufficient detail. The idea is to not get bogged down in the details but still be sufficiently precise in terms of the expected deliverables and the person assigned to the deliverable.

To do this, you need the right action plan management tool that can handle the right amount of information, laying out a clear and precise dashboard for you to visualise the tasks, deadlines, participants and responsible parties for each action plan put in place. By now you’ll have noticed that there may only be a subtle difference between an action plan and a project in some cases, which is why you need a tool that can handle both projects and action plans.

And for best performance, a simple but extremely effective piece of advice: when defining your task you should always begin with a verb. Verbs are actions!

Tracking

Considering all the different parties involved, it is important to communicate on the progress of the action plan, and particularly with the person encountering the issue. The person in charge must ensure that action items are implemented and come up with solutions if things get derailed.

Depending on the issues, tracking can be daily, weekly, monthly or even quarterly. The chosen means of tracking progress should be established at the time the action plan is defined, upstream, at a meeting bringing together the various team members.

To be a guarantee of success, the tracking process of an action plan should never take up too much time, either for the person in charge of the deliverable or for the various team members undertaking the tasks.

To help you make a success of your action plans, we built an Ebook with all best practices for designing and managing action plans from the feedback of our customers:

Examples of action plans

An action plan can therefore get you from point A to point B in a context where there is a known path to follow. Here are a few examples.

Making things right, from an issue back to the standard

Example: delivery of a defective product requiring curative actions to resolve the problem (issue a replacement product to the customer, provide a goodwill gesture, etc.) and perform corrective actions to ensure the problem does not recur (root cause analysis, identifying solutions, implementing actions, etc.).

Improving a current situation to raise the quality standards of the company

  • Reduce the time frame to make a change on a machine;
  • Improve the customer notification system to keep people informed of the progress of a delivery/repair/support;
  • Set up the idea of a collaborator to…

Eliminate waste

To improve the company’s productivity and recover the margins. This can be the waste of materials/supplies, time or energy etc.

Remove irritants

Irritants affect productivity. Eliminating them will improve the quality of work life (QWL).

An action plan can actually end up being as much a helpful tool as an additional source of stress and tension for the teams. It is after all merely a tool, it’s up to you to choose what to do with it.

To really gain added value from this tool and achieve the expected deliverables, you need to invest a little time and rigour upstream, setting up the right work processes to simplify the task and save time and productivity in the long term.