A well-crafted action plan can help you effectively plan your workload and push the limits of your business.
But, if creating one seems like it's adding stress, you're not alone. Action plans can be overly complicated or difficult to adhere to. That said, not using an action plan can result in missed deadlines, overlapping tasks, lack of clarity, and miscommunication.
Once you become familiar with the benefits an action plan brings, you'll understand why you need one to operate efficiently.
In this article, we’ll go over what action plans are, the benefits of action plans, the steps to create your own action plans, and some real-life examples.
What is an action plan, and why does it work?
An action plan is a comprehensive document that outlines the necessary tasks to achieve specific goals. It does the following:
- Pinpoint the action items (tasks) that need completion.
- Identify the person responsible for each task.
- Establish a reasonable period of time for task completion.
- Determine the types of resources required for each job.
Think of an action plan as the tactics for implementing a strategic plan. It converts goals into clear action steps.
The importance of planning in business
With astrategic plan, you and your team can:
- Get aligned on tasks
- Cover all crucial tasks
- Meet deadlines
- Improve prioritization
- Avoid costly mistakes
Your business plan isn't merely a box to check off your to-do list. It provides direction, helping you ensure your business remains aligned with its goals and objectives.
Action planning myths dispelled
Let's look at (and debunk) some common myths around action planning:
- Myth #1 Action plans are only for big businesses: Action plans benefit businesses of all sizes.
- Myth #2 Action plans are time-consuming: While they require some upfront (time) investment, the long-term benefits are more than worth that time.
- Myth #3 Action plans limit flexibility: Far from limiting, action plans provide a robust framework that enhances adaptability.
The benefits of an action plan
There’s no doubt that action plans improve productivity. Action plans will help you:
- Understand project goals
- Help with resourcing
- Clarify action steps (tasks) and priorities
- Improve decision-making
And, to boot, these benefits can directly improve your bottom line.
If that's not enough, there are some second-order benefits that action plans can bring.
Build a collaborative culture
As the adage goes, teamwork makes dreams work. In our case, that means involving staff in the planning process.
When employees are part of the decision-making process, they:
- Feel valued
- Are more engaged
- Have a sense of ownership
- Actively contribute
Create a transparent work culture
Action plans inherently promote transparency by:
- Outlining clear responsibilities where everyone knows their role
- Fostering a culture where employees take ownership.
- Employing real-time task tracking tools like Kanban boards or the Motion AI calendar app to help teams visualize progress (and avoid confusion).
Boost team morale
You'll want to recognize everyone's hard work.
Teams that celebrate milestones together also:
- Share a sense of achievement that leads to higher motivation and interest.
- Build strong relationships that improve team coordination and reduce conflicts.
Build trust with clients
Consistency is an essential step toward building trust with your clients.
When your business delivers consistently, clients learn they can rely on your company's consistency.
And happy clients tend to come back (repeatedly), establishing enduring partnerships (and boosting profits).
The bottom line is that you want to approach action planning as a chance to grow, learn, and refine your team and business.
Create (and execute) an action plan with these 5 easy action plan steps
Let's break the action plan down into manageable steps.
Step 1: Define meaningful goals
First and foremost, you’ll want to define project objectives and goals for the work you are doing. The SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) framework is popular, adaptable and effective for goal-setting.
Tips for defining SMART goals:
- Specific: be clear about your goal. Use strong action words and be detailed about what you want to achieve.
- Measurable: track your progress so you know when you've hit your goal.
- Achievable: make sure your goals are doable based on your team's abilities (and resources).
- Relevant: align your goals with your objectives.
- Time-bound: deadlines create a sense of urgency and help keep everyone on track.
The SMART framework is an excellent (and flexible) blueprint that can help you define your goals.
Step 2: Prioritize your tasks
Next, you'll want to arrange your tasks in order of importance.
The Eisenhower Matrix is perfect for this. It helps you clarify difficult decisions by dividing tasks into four quadrants — a 2X2 grid based on urgency and importance.
- Quadrant 1: priority tasks are urgent and essential.
- Quadrant 2: tasks aren't urgent but still important. Schedule these tasks for later.
- Quadrant 3: tasks are urgent but not critical. Delegate these tasks.
- Quadrant 4: tasks aren't urgent or essential. Think about these tasks later.
The Eisenhower Matrix can eliminate second-guessing and help you work your tasks more effectively.
If you're looking for alternative strategies for task prioritization, here are some excellent choices:
- ABC method: categorizes tasks into three types based on their significance
- Pareto principle (80/20 rule): helps identify the crucial 20% of tasks that deliver 80% of the results
- Ivy Lee method: a simple, effective method where you simply give yourself a few prioritized tasks per day.
Using task prioritization techniques can help you focus on important work (and achievable goals).
Step 3: Set realistic timelines
It's important to set realistic timelines for the tasks in your action plan, and a Gantt chart is the perfect way to visualize those timelines. It's a horizontal bar chart that visualizes the full scope of your project over time. The bars on the chart represent each task within your project.
Why use Gantt charts? They can help you manage your projects by:
- Forecasting timelines: predict busy workloads and plan resources.
- Managing tasks: learn where your tasks intersect.
- Track progress: gauge your progress, and plan for what comes next.
Gantt charts are simple to use:
- List all tasks: list every task you need completed for your project.
- Timeline estimates: allocate a realistic timeframe for each task.
- Sort tasks: arrange your tasks according to the order of execution.
- Assign tasks: dole out tasks to the team according to skill sets.
- Stay current: update your Gantt chart, and adjust plans if needed.
Most project managers use Gantt charts to keep teams in sync (and focused on billable work).
Step 4: Delegate tasks
Different team members will have different strengths. Make sure you have the right people on the tasks that suit their strengths.
How to best delegate tasks:
- Know your team: What is each person good at, and what do they enjoy doing?
- Be clear: When you give someone a task. Explain what you expect and when you need it.
- Provide tools and support: Your team should have everything they need to do the job. Be there to answer questions and clear up any issues.
- Let them take control: Empower team members to determine the best approach for their tasks.
- Provide feedback on completed tasks: Recognize the work being put in, and suggest areas for improvement. Team members will feel valued and informed.
When you delegate effectively, everyone's happier (and you'll be more efficient).
Step 5: Track progress (and refine as you go)
To keep your strategic plan on track, follow these easy steps and keep action plan tasks moving forward:
- Use tracking tools: Motion is an excellent example of a tool that'll track progress, deadlines, and your overall project flow.
- Team check-in: Schedule weekly or monthly reviews to evaluate progress, identify roadblocks, and make necessary adjustments.
- Adapt and refine: If something isn't working, change it. Update your deadlines or delegate to someone else.
- Celebrate milestones: Recognize and celebrate wins to boost team motivation.
- Keep learning and improving: Each project should leave you thinking about what went well and what didn't. Use those lessons in your next round.
Optimize for success
Once your action plan is ready, here are two tips to bump up the effectiveness of your action plan.
Time management hacks
Here are a couple of time management techniques to improve productivity:
- Task Batching: Group tasks that are alike and tackle them together.
- Pomodoro technique: Work in chunks of 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break to keep your brain sharp and productive.
82% of people don't use a formal time management system. They use to-do lists or email, so you'll have a leg up.
Visualize your action plan with a Kanban board
A Kanban board will help you see the whole picture. Here's why that's useful:
- Understand dependencies: When you can see all the work in one visual, it's infinitely more easy to understand how tasks relate to each other.
- Communicate what needs to be done: What is the work? Who's doing what? What's done (and what's still in progress)? Kanban boards keep everyone on the same page.
- Track progress: Keep an eye on tasks and tackle any hold-ups before they turn into problems.
You and your team will love the feeling of tasks moving from to-do to done.
Share the action plan with your team
Make sure everyone knows their part to play.
- Hold regular team meetings: To keep everyone in the loop, check in with your team regularly. Use straightforward language and visuals to keep everyone aligned on your project status.
- Keep your action plan accessible: Make sure your action plan is easy for everyone to find and understand. Use simple words, including tools that work well on computers and mobile devices.
With everyone on the same page, you'll eliminate many potential problems.
Successful action planning: real-world examples
Here are a few ways action planning has proven successful.
Turning Gyms into Gold: Gold's Gym
Gold's Gym, a globally recognized fitness chain, franchised its operations through strategic action planning.
They devised a plan to ensure brand consistency, uniform training procedures, and standardized facility maintenance across all locations. This precise action plan facilitated the successful expansion and sustained the top-notch customer experience the gym is known for.
Construction project management: Bechtel Corporation
Bechtel Corporation is known for working on large projects, most notably the Hoover Dam. There's little room for error when working on a project of that magnitude.
Bechtel used detailed action plans for everything from safety to timelines.
Elevating real estate services: Coldwell Banker
Buying a house can be confusing, but Coldwell Banker makes it easier. They have action plans for everything, from setting the price to navigating the mountains of paperwork.
Unleash your business potential with an action plan
An action plan gives you a structured way to execute your projects perfectly...every time.
And to ensure you are making the most of your action plans, consider using a tool like Motion.
Motion's calendar tool will help you break down big objectives into clear tasks, prioritize and schedule those tasks in one place. Motion will also help track progress and evaluate the impact of your business plan performance.
Check out Motion to access your free trial if you haven't already.