Have you ever asked yourself this question: What is the purpose of an action plan?
If so, you’re not alone!
I know a lot of people – especially free-spirited creative types – who chafe at the idea of creating an action plan and following it step by step to ensure success in different areas of their lives.
They say they find the whole idea of action plans too constrictive and believe it runs counter to their desire to follow their heart and intuition toward their dreams.
But the fact is, the purpose of an action plan ensures that you’re able to follow your heart and intuition – and is precisely what gives you the structure and direction you need to stay on track toward your dreams when other aspects of life threaten to get in the way.
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So today I’d like to teach you how to write an action plan that outlines the strategic planning tasks that you’ll need to achieve any goal you can imagine. You’ll also gain free access to a simple action plan template that you can use to manage any project efficiently.
This free action plan template will make it easier for you to identify objectives, prioritize tasks in a sensible order, assign action tasks according to priority level, and track project progress so you’re able to achieve your goals faster than you may have thought possible. So be sure to continue to the end of this article so you can download your copy.
But first, before I give you the tools to write an action plan, let’s start with the basics.
What is an Action Plan?
An action plan is a definitive checklist of key steps and resources required to achieve a goal.
Action plans specify the key over-arching objective you want to accomplish than “chunk down” that key goal into all the specific tasks and resources needed to achieve it.
A well-written action plan then organizes tasks according to priority, assigns a completion date for each task, and identifies the person responsible for each task so that the team leader is able to oversee all aspects of project management and ensure the goal is reached.
Knowing how to write an effective action plan is a critical skill for successful project management and is valuable not just for project managers within an organization, but also for individuals who have big goals they want to accomplish in their personal lives.
Your action plan will help you (and your entire support team, if applicable) budget your time and resources effectively and assign tasks so you can ensure you stay on track as you work to meet your key objectives.
Purpose of an Action Plan
Simply put, the purpose of an action plan is to ensure that everyone involved in a project understands what needs to be done when – and by whom.
Action plans offer a complete overview of the project management game plan, making it easier for you to allocate resources and ensure people understand the tasks, personnel, and tools needed to reach success.
They also allow the project manager to track team progress toward specific milestones and measure performance so they can tweak the plan if necessary to hit the target goals.
Benefits of an Action Plan
Knowing how to write an action plan can help ensure the success of new projects and achieve your personal goals as well.
Here’s why every project manager (and every person, for that matter) should become a pro at effective action planning:
Clarifies Your Objective
Do you know the old parable of the blind men and the elephant?
Each monk is touching a different part of the elephant, and so they can’t agree on what the giant object in their midst actually is. (The person at the tail insists it’s a rope, the one at the tusk insists it’s a curved sword, the one with the trunk insists it’s a snake, and so on.)
The same is true for project management without an action plan.
If you don’t have a clear and detailed action plan providing an overview of the project, your objectives, and the steps and resources needed to achieve it, can be difficult for the project management team to have a consensus.
Having an action plan clarifies the key objectives of your projects for the entire team and ensures everyone involved is on the same page.
Creates Ownership and Accountability
Action plans help you instill a sense of individual and collective ownership for the goal you hope to achieve.
When you add all the tasks to your weekly schedule, it gives you a clear directive on what your personal action steps are – and what you are responsible for accomplishing.
Having a shared action plan also forces you to be accountable to the other members of your team. This accountability acts as a powerful incentive for the team to get things done according to schedule.
Keeps You on Track
An effective action plan specifies the date by which the task will be completed.
This gives you a clear blueprint of how much time you expect to spend on each of the tasks required to reach your goals so that if you discover certain tasks are taking longer than anticipated, you can track progress and adjust your timeline and to-do lists accordingly.
Allows You to Measure of Success
Action plans also help you identify key milestones and track performance on your journey so you can measure your outcomes against expectations and get a clear sense of how well you’re doing.
This is invaluable information that will help you optimize your performance and get even better results over time.
Brings Like-Minded People Together
Using an action plan brings a team of individuals together who all have something to offer in relation to the key objective you are working to accomplish.
Individuals who are knowledgeable in the area of work (experts), individuals who are experiencing the problem and stand to benefit from the change (beneficiaries), and individuals who can contribute to the project (resources).
Through collaboration, everyone can contribute their ideas, and through discussion, negotiation, and compromise, the most important action and priorities will emerge.
Provides an Opportunity for Reflection
Because action plans allow you to identify your key objective as well as the action steps you must take to accomplish those objectives, they provide a detailed record of your journey that makes it easy for you to remember everything experienced along the way.
This makes it easier for you to reflect on the amount of work involved as well as what did and didn’t work, so you can improve your performance the next time you tackle a similar project.
7 Steps to Make an Action Plan
Here are the 7 steps to follow to create an action plan that gets results.
STEP 1: Define Your Smart Goals
If you are not clear about what you want to do and what you want to achieve, you are setting yourself up for failure. That’s why your first step to create an action plan should be to write down your goal in as much specific detail as possible. Ensure your key objective adheres to “SMART goal” guidelines and is:
Smart goals are well-defined and clear.
“I want to lose 25 lbs,” instead of “I want to lose weight.”
Your goal should include measurable indicators to track progress.
“We will get 100 participants in our new program by December 31st.”
Your goal should be realistic and achievable within the resources, time, money, experience, etc. you have.
“I will attract 3 new clients a month” vs. “I will make $1,000,000 in my first year.”
Your goal should be relevant to your larger personal and/or organizational objectives and help you make real progress toward your over-arching goals.
“We will grow our email list by 10,000, focusing on attracting subscribers who are most likely to be interested in our new program.”
Your goal should have a clear end date so you can tell whether or not you have achieved it, and if not, how far off the mark you were.
“I will run a marathon before my 50th birthday” vs. “I will become more physically active.”
STEP 2: List the Steps to Accomplish Them
Once your SMART goal is clear, your next step should be to brainstorm all of the smaller tasks that will be required in order to make your goal a reality.
It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what all of these smaller tasks are yet. As you continue forward, they will become increasingly clear. An effective action plan allows you to update it as more information comes to light.
STEP 3: Prioritize & Set Deadlines for Yourself
Once you have a list of steps to work with, it’s time to prioritize them according to what needs to be done first, and then what needs to be done next, and so on.
You may find that certain steps require you to complete other tasks first. Understand that your action plan is a living document that will evolve as you continue on your journey.
Then, once you have the order of steps relatively nailed down, be sure to add a deadline for each one to ensure you stay on track.
STEP 4: Set Milestones
Nothing accelerates forward momentum like accomplishing a key milestone! These are significant “mini-goals” that mark your progress toward your goals.
The advantage of identifying key milestones is that they give the team members to look forward to something in the short-term and help them stay motivated on the journey toward their final destination even if the ultimate goal is still months away from being achieved.
For best practices, it’s generally a good idea to space your milestones two weeks apart. This allows you and your team to achieve significant wins at a steady pace, allowing you to maintain your momentum as you work toward your end objective.
STEP 5: Identify What You Need
Be sure your action plan clearly identifies all of the tools, resources, and skills development required to achieve your goals at every step of the journey.
If any of these tools or resources aren’t currently available, you will have to add the acquisition of them as additional tasks to your action plan.
STEP 6: Visualize Your Action Plan
Once your action plan is complete, I encourage you to do some visualization around it.
Both individually and as a team, create a clear picture of what your world will look like when your outcome has been achieved – and keep that visualization top of mind to help you stay motivated as you work toward your goals.
STEP 7: Reevaluate & Improve When Necessary
I encourage you to revisit your action plan on a weekly and monthly basis to ensure that the plan you have created is still working for you.
For example, if you seriously underestimated the amount of time involved to complete key steps, you may need to give yourself additional time and add extra key tasks that you may not have been aware of when you first created the plan.
Be sure to regularly revisit and update your action plan so it reflects your reality and provides a realistic and attainable framework for you to follow.
Get Ready to Take Action
Now that you understand the purpose of an action plan, it’s time to create your own!
My free goal-setting guide gives you a simple action plan template that you can use to clarify your goals and create a detailed blueprint that will allow you to achieve them.
Whether you are working on a team goal for your organization or a personal goal in your life, My Goal Setting Guide will help you get the job done!
You can claim your free guide here:
Get started on your goal setting journey!