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Template and milestones for creating an action plan

Examples of action plans

What turns ideas into concrete initiatives, has an impact at all levels of the whole company and can be used in-house and externally? The answer: action plans.

An action plan gives guidelines to follow. It can apply to any or all company business: continuous improvement, quality, safety, environment, digitization, marketing, strategic planning, organizational performance, customer experience, handling irritants, deviations, anomalies, and more.

The apparent simplicity of action plans, compared to a project which is more complex, has led to their widespread use in companies. Action plans enable organizations to get moving, with extremely positive effects on business. However, teams quickly reach saturation point if action plans are overused without some methodology.

So what is an action plan? When and for which objectives are they pertinent? Which action plan examples have proven their worth? What are the milestones for creating an action plan? Which tool should you use?

This article explains how to create the right action plan for your needs.

What is an action plan?

Before you start drawing up an action plan, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what it is and what it’s not.

What’s the difference between to-do lists, simple actions, action plans and projects?

These four terms are often used interchangeably. However, they mustn’t be confused with each other as they don’t require the same level of management. Knowing their particularities allows you to measure your efforts to optimize quality, cost, and deadlines for the pertinent process.

To-do Lists

A To-do List is a list of tasks that need doing. They are not necessarily related to each other. More often than not they are personal tasks.

Simple actions

A simple action, or “Just Do It” is a task allocated to a person or team with a fairly straightforward deliverable and deadline. It doesn’t need much coordination, but it does need someone to keep an eye on it.


Projects are complex activities which present uncertainty and risks. Projects need to go through stages of definition, analysis, design, etc. to control risks. Decisions at each stage may drive the project to be changed, continued, or abandoned. With a project, you know where you’re going, just not how to get there.

Research activities

Research activities are less well-known. These are exploratory exercises which are increasingly common in the innovation sector. In this context, the organisation does not know where it wants to go or how to get there. The terms Proof Of Concept (POC), Proof Of Value (POV), and Proof Of Technology (POT) are also used.

Action plans

Often referred to as Group Tasks, action plans are used to organize a set of tasks to achieve a deliverable. They are useful when you need to coordinate different people, teams, and activities in a context with minimum uncertainties. With an action plan, you know where you’re going and how to get there.

Now that’s clear, let’s take a look at some concrete examples of action plans within companies.

Implementing an action plan: aims and examples

Now you know that an action plan enables you to get from A to B on a recognizable track. However, you are not sure what specific improvements it might help you achieve. Here are some key examples.

Get the company back on track after a downturn

Take a company that has a recurring problem with the delivery of defective products. An action plan would allow it to:

  • Take remedial action such as sending the client a replacement and/or offering a discount.
  • Take corrective action to prevent the problem recurring such as root cause analysis, identifying solutions, and implementing actions.

Strengthen and improve company standards

Action plans not only allow a company to redress a situation, they are a chance to raise standards.

Here are some examples from different sectors:

  • Improve production delays by reducing machine changeover times;
  • Improve customer satisfaction by keeping customers informed of the progress of their order - delivery time, repairs, etc.

Eliminate waste and improve productivity

Wasted materials, such as supplies, equipment, and machines, and wasted human resources, including manpower, time, and energy, hinder improvement productivity. Action plans are not only useful but essential for clawing back room for manoeuvre to increase profitability.

Remove irritants

Setting up an action plan to eliminate irritants in the customer journey improves productivity and customer satisfaction.

Monitoring action plans the SEW USOCOME way

How SEW USOCOME manages action plans

The world’s leading manufacturer of drive systems, SEW USOCOME implemented IDhall to manage its action plans and log reports of quality and product irregularities to continuously improve the performance of its support and production functions.

To find out more, read SEW USOCOME’s success story.

Action plans: 5 key milestones

Milestone 1: Start by stating the issue

The source of an action plan is a clearly stated issue. The issue prompts a team to take action with the aim of achieving a result. This phase is essential so that the team understands the context and why it’s important to fix the problem.

Milestone 2: Clearly state the problem

This is where many action plans go awry. Implementing an action plan without clearly understanding the root of the problem is the main trap to avoid.

To clearly state the problem, consider using the 5 Whys technique, repeatedly asking “Why?”. It allows you to reach the real root of the problem. If the question is not well-defined and understood, you probably won’t reach the right answer. This stage is vital for the action plan to succeed.

Not formally setting out the problem that needs solving is probably the main pitfall that organizations encounter when they implement action plans: They ask teams to carry out tasks without understanding why.
Benoît Brulant – Founder, Humanperf Software

Milestone 3: Set the objectives

The expected results must be clearly laid out so that everyone is aiming for the same target. This stage will also be used to check how useful the action plan was. Embed quantitative objectives where possible.

Milestone 4: List tasks and the people involved

Don’t fall into the “Command & Control” micro-management trap. Avoid getting bogged down in excessive levels of detail when defining the task in hand. The task must be understandable, actionable, and limited in time. It starts with a verb which is quite simply the task to be performed.

Organizations must choose between having tasks passed around like hot potatoes on the one hand, and having formalized action plans with stakeholder buy-in, documented initiatives, and rituals to monitor progress on the other.

The 5W approach (Who? When? Where? What? How? Why?) will be particularly helpful at this stage. Answering these key questions will clarify the main tasks and corresponding activities required.

Are you at this stage? Does it seem endless? Don’t panic, everything’s OK! Setting out the actions might seem tedious, but it’s not a waste of time. Quite the opposite. You will save precious time at the execution stage.

Milestone 5: Allow for the human factor and get a monitoring tool

Successful action plans require human action. Behind any action plan are people who:

  • Experience the identified issue every day;
  • Are responsible for the action plan and accountable to the person experiencing the problem;
  • Handle the tasks in line with commitments made by the manager responsible for the action plan.

These people face pitfalls that disrupt the action plan every day. The only way to overcome these obstacles and see the plan through is to set the rules using a tool to centralize and monitor the action plans.

A collaborative platform such as IDhall offers a unique overview of all the action plans, making it easier for everyone to get involved.

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Managing action plans successfully

We are all aware of the uncertainties that may impede an action plan’s progress. Yet they are rarely allowed for in the action plan’s management and performance. Tasks are late, the manager loses control of deadlines, and the person who made the request is dissatisfied. Communication lines are blurred.

It is essential to communicate about action plan progress, particularly to the person experiencing the issue. The manager must ensure that actions are implemented and provide solutions if the situation derails.

Tracking can be daily, weekly, monthly or even quarterly depending on the challenges faced. Tracking must be established upstream when the action plan is defined.

To guarantee success, the tracking process should not be too time-consuming, either for the person in charge of the final deliverable, or for the various team members undertaking the tasks.

An action plan can be a helpful tool but it can also be a source of stress and tension for your teams.

To really gain added value from this tool and achieve your objectives, remember the five milestones above. Invest a little time upstream, setting out the rules of play, the rituals, and the right tool to save time and productivity in the long run.

Dig a little deeper? Download our ebook: How to make a success of your action plans.

How to make a success of your action plans

This article was originally published on January 11, 2018 and was updated on March 9, 2023.