An action plan is a checklist of tasks needed to complete a project or achieve specific results. Action plans are different from standard to-do lists because they also include the resources required to achieve your desired goal.
In this article, we’ll go through the purposes of action plans, the key steps usually included in them, how you can use action plans to help your project management, and a step-by-step instructions on how to put one together yourself. And as a bonus, we’ll also give you information on Wrike’s pre-built action plan template, which can jumpstart your action plan process.
Action plans explained
An action plan is a definitive checklist of tasks and resources needed to complete a project or achieve a goal. You can think of it as a visual countdown to the project delivery or a list of tasks needed to achieve desired results.
Now you may be thinking, "What is the purpose of an action plan vs. a to-do list?" The most significant difference between action plans and to-do lists is that action plans focus on achieving a specific goal. In contrast, to-do lists are ongoing and include tasks for different goals and projects.
Working with an action plan ensures you complete every task and requirement to meet the expected standards of a project. As you develop an action plan, you identify any critical paths and dependencies.
Keep in mind that a developed action plan is not set in stone. It should be a dynamic document you can adjust as your environment changes.
What is the purpose of an action plan?
Action plans help order project tasks in a sequential and timely manner to achieve a goal. Project managers and individuals can use action plans to achieve their work and personal project goals.
Developing an action plan clarifies goals to be achieved, teams and service providers to involve, tasks, dependencies, milestones, and resources needed to complete the project. Action plans also help track progress and measure project performance.
Action plans prepare you for predictable and preventable challenges and focus your resources to achieve your main goals. Effective action plans maximize personal and team productivity and resource allocation.
Following action plan steps also:
- Reduces the possibility of forgetting tasks in the project
- Generates a goal-driven workflow, so you know what to work on throughout the project
- Provides a way to track progress as you check tasks off the action plan as you complete them
Why are action plans important in project management?
An action plan in project management is a quick and easy way to manage projects. You can quickly map out the resources and requirements you need and sketch a timeline to complete tasks.
Action plans should not be confused with project plans, which are more detailed and thorough. Project plans cover details like risk mitigation, quality assurance, stakeholder communication schedules, and change management plans. In contrast, action plans simply list the tasks, resources, and timelines needed to achieve a goal.
Because of their simplicity and ease of setup, action plans help maintain operational efficiency without taking much time. They declutter managers' minds and provide a framework for structuring new projects in a sensible order. Action plans also clarify the objectives of the project and build consensus on how the work should be done.
What are the key steps of an action plan?
The main point of an action plan is to ensure you don't overlook critical tasks and milestones of your project. In its simplest form, developing an action plan entails listing tasks you need to complete and prioritizing them.
As you develop your action plan, you decide which tasks you can delegate, outsource, or delay. The steps below map out how to write a sound action plan to increase your chance of success.
Step 1: Define your goal
Get clear on what you want to achieve with your project. Define where you are and where you want to be. If you have alternative methods to achieve your goal, assess your situation and decide the best chances of success depending on your resources.
Step 2: List tasks
Once you have your goal, list the tasks and activities you must complete to achieve it. Then order them sequentially by adding key dates and deadlines.
Step 3: Identify critical tasks
Are there any steps that must be completed before others can start? These are critical tasks with dependencies. Prioritize these tasks and set realistic deadlines. If you plan to assign them to team members, be sure to let them know the dependencies and allow them enough time to deliver them.
Step 4: Assign tasks
Now the project is broken down, you can start assigning tasks. Will you be handling some yourself in addition to managing the project? Make sure you allocate time and human resources carefully – you may choose to delegate or outsource specific tasks.
Step 5: Assess and improve
At the end of each project, assess performance and take lessons to improve your action planning and project execution. If you work with a team, collect feedback and improvement suggestions from team members for better future performance.
Action plan best practices
Following these action plan best practices ensure that you're more likely to succeed:
- Involve your team: When working with a team, involve them early in the planning process to get their input and save time. Get team members' work schedules before assigning tasks to avoid conflicts. Communicate clearly to enable them to prepare for their responsibilities.
- Set SMART goals: SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Ensure your action plan starts with a strong foundation by defining clear and SMART goals that add value, either as a personal project or at work.
- Make your action plans into templates: To get more benefits from your action plans, make them into templates for similar projects. After assessing your action plans at the end of a completed project, make a copy of the plan and remove all project-specific details, so you're able to use the action plan template in future projects. This reduces rework and saves a lot of time and also mistakes.
Who needs to write an action plan?
Action plans are not solely used in project management. They are handy for project managers, professional service providers, and individuals and useful for both personal and business projects. Action plans can also be used alone or with a team. In teams, the leader develops the action plan with input from team members.
Developing an action plan helps individuals, managers, and organizations complete more successful projects. They are great for kick-starting, tracking, and maintaining progress on any project. Remember to check off tasks as they are done, update the plans, and communicate with your team as your project progresses.
Action plan example
Action plans are quick and easy to create. It's all about putting down what you need to accomplish your goal or complete a project. Here's a simple action plan example for someone preparing for a solo international trip.
Things I need:
Passport, money, clothes and shoes, gifts, medicine
Flight out: Dec 22
Peru: 3 days
Brazil: 6 days
Flight in: Jan 5
Things to do:
Buy plane ticket
Withdraw money from the bank
[Pick up meds]
Following our action plan steps, we would identify any critical tasks on this list and reorder them to ensure they're taken care of in time to handle their dependencies. In this action plan example, changing currencies is dependent on withdrawing money from the bank, which makes it a top priority.
How to create an action plan with Wrike
Using project management tools helps to organize your action plan visually. Using software like Wrike, you can easily input your project resources, requirements, and timelines and track your progress throughout the project.
One of the best ways to jumpstart your action plan is to use our pre-built action plan template that helps you take control of your task management by providing sample folders to organize tasks, a calendar for project scheduling, and prebuilt dashboards for monitoring progress. All you have to do is add your tasks and due dates to get a complete overview of project work.
If you’re ready to develop action plans and track your progress while executing projects better, you need Wrike. We make it easy to plan, execute, and ensure success, even when you’re on the go. Click here to start your free two-week trial and kick off your action plan today.