What you should know about action plans
Whether you have personal, professional, or business goals, an action plan can help you create a clear path for reaching them. Keep reading to discover what exactly an action plan is, why it's important, how to effectively create one, and a template and example that you can use to guide you as you develop your own action plan.
What is an action plan and why is it important?
Action plans are outlines of the steps you need to take to accomplish a specific goal. They create a timeline and develop a list of actionable tasks, which is why they are used by a variety of individuals and organizations that are hoping to achieve a goal. Action plans offer a number of benefits. For example, they can:
- Provide clarity and direction.
- Help you prepare for potential obstacles.
- Make monitoring progress easier and more efficient, allowing you to keep the process within budget and on schedule.
- Boost the commitment, motivation, and overall productivity of yourself and/or your team by keeping you focused on the goal ahead.
- Allow you to appropriately prioritize certain tasks.
How to make an action plan
Here are the steps you need to take to create a great action plan:
1. Define your goal
You need to clearly understand your goal before you can create an effective action plan. Using the SMART method allows you to fully realize your goals by making sure your objective is:
- Specific: Make sure your goal is clear and narrow.
- Measurable: You need to define the evidence there will be that you are making progress toward your goal.
- Attainable: Your goal needs to be reasonable, meaning you need to be realistic about whether you can actually accomplish it within your desired timeframe.
- Relevant: Make sure that your objective aligns with your long-term goals and values.
- Time-based: Set a realistic yet ambitious deadline for accomplishing your goal.
2. Create a list of actionable steps
Divide your primary objective into smaller, actionable steps. These tasks can serve as smaller goals and milestones, making your main goal seem just a little less intimidating. This also gives you a clearly defined and organized plan for reaching your goal. If you think that one of the steps is a little overly ambitious, you could break it up into a few smaller tasks.
3. Set a timeframe with deadlines
Not only do you need to give yourself an overarching timeline to reach the primary goal, but you also need to create a timeframe for each step involved in the process. Evaluate each task and what it entails to determine how much time you’ll need to complete it.
4. Identify the necessary resources
If you’re working on a large project, there will likely be a number of people involved across departments. Assess the skill sets needed to accomplish each task, and determine which team members will be most qualified to execute them. From there, you will need to detail the tools necessary, such as personnel, equipment, outsourcing, and money.
5. Track your progress
Make sure that each step is completed on time by holding regular meetings or using an internal reporting system. This will give both yourself and the team a better idea of the progress you’re making.
Action plan template
You can use a template, like this one, to help you develop your action plan:
[Detail the problem that is being addressed through the project.]
[Explain the primary goal of the action plan.]
Action plan: [This is typically formatted as a table, and each bullet has its own column.]
- Actions: [Provide the tasks you need to complete to reach your goal.]
- Task owners: [Note the team member in charge of handling each step.]
- Timeline: [List milestones and deadlines for each task.]
- Resources: [Give the assets necessary for completing each step.]
- Potential obstacles: [Think through any factors that could potentially prevent each step from being completed effectively or efficiently.]
- Outcomes: [Provide the desired result associated with each step’s completion.]
Evidence of improvement:
[There should be markers that signal that you have successfully completed a task and goal. Provide some of the tangible or measurable desired results.]
Example of an action plan
Here’s an example of an action plan:
Stagnant profit growth due to insufficient sales efforts.
Boost the company’s profits by 25% over the next two years.
1. Recruit fresh talent
- Action: Determine the missing skill sets in our current team and work with a recruitment agency to find quality talent that can fill these needs.
- Task owner: Sales manager
- Deadline: February 2021
- Resources: Recruitment agency
- Potential obstacles: It could take longer to find quality candidates.
- Outcome: Our sales staff will grow and acquire qualified members.
2. Train the sales staff
- Action: Sales and customer service training is provided for all sales staff, new and old.
- Task owner: Sales Manager
- Deadline: April 2021
- Resources: Instructors and a curriculum
- Potential obstacles: We may have to develop a curriculum if we have trouble finding one that addresses our needs and concerns.
- Outcome: Our sales staff will have the training necessary to be successful in their role.
3. Update the website
- Action: We need to refresh our site and keep the information current as we grow.
- Task owner: IT manager
- Deadline: April 2021, but ongoing maintenance is required
- Resources: Web designers, copywriting, graphic design, and photography
- Potential obstacles: Due to the amount of labor involved, the initial update could be quite costly.
- Outcome: Prospective customers will have access to fresh visuals and information.
4. Generate sales
- Action: Develop a brochure that highlights our products and services.
- Task owner: Marketing manager
- Deadline: May 2021
- Resources: Copywriting, graphic design, photography, and a printer
- Potential obstacles: We’ll need to identify and establish a good relationship with a printer.
- Outcome: Our sales staff will have appealing marketing materials to offer potential customers at events or meetings.
Evidence of improvement:
We’ll have an annual profit of $425,000 for 2022.