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. 

Understanding this distinction, it becomes clear that action plans are powerful tools for goal setting and project execution. They help teams manage resources, adhere to schedules, and track progress toward specific goals and projects.

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 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 jump-start your action plan process. Here is a preview of what the action plan template looks like:


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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.

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.

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. 

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.

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

Action plan vs. project plan

Action plans should not be confused with project plans. Both list the tasks, resources, and timelines required to achieve a desired goal, but project plans go deeper, including details such as contingency action steps, risk mitigation strategies, quality assessment criteria, and stakeholder communication schedules. In contrast, action plans simply list the tasks, resources, and timelines needed to achieve a goal. 

Think of it this way: For big, long-term, or complex projects, you create a project plan first. Once your project plan is in place, an action plan helps you detail the steps and flow for allocating resources, sharing and executing tasks, and setting deadlines.

In summary, action plans and project plans differ in the following ways: 

  • Complexity: Action plans are simpler than project plans. They focus solely on the tasks, resources, and timelines required to achieve a goal. Project plans include sections for other measures, standards, and procedures for completing a project. 
  • Duration: Action plans focus on specific, short-term goals. These may be for standalone goals or part of a larger project. Project plans are more encompassing — covering longer-term objectives, which may take months or years to complete. 
  • Flow: Action plans are linear, one task following another until the goal is achieved. Project plans may have multiple phases, e.g., planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and reviewing, with each stage containing its own distinct tasks and deliverables.

The components of an action plan

Let’s take a look at the essential components of an action plan:

  1. Action plan objectives: The action plan objectives serve as the guide for the action plan, defining and communicating what the plan seeks to achieve. 
  2. Action plan steps:  Action plan steps form the core of the action plan. They detail crucial targets and milestones that must be completed to reach the goal. These steps divide the goal or project into manageable chunks and provide a framework for identifying tasks (action items), allocating resources, and determining timelines. 
  3. Action plan items: Action plan items are the nitty-gritty details of the action plan — the actual tasks to be performed. Each action plan item must be clearly defined, actionable, and understood by the team involved. 
  4. Action plan timeline: The action plan timeline maps out the plan schedule from start to finish. It’s crucial for setting expectations, tracking progress and performance, and ensuring the project stays on schedule. 
  5. Action plan resources: These are the inputs required to execute the plan, e.g., labor, time, tools, and funds. Identifying action plan resources before delving into execution helps ensure tasks are not delayed or compromised due to resource constraints. 
  6. Action plan matrix: The action plan matrix provides a structured layout for planning tasks. It serves as a roadmap and helps to categorize your action steps and tasks based on priority, status, and resource allocation. This alignment helps identify any dependencies or potential bottlenecks.
  7. Action plan report: The action plan report provides an overview of the progress made in executing the action plan. It includes details like the tasks completed, time taken, costs incurred, resources used, and any deviations from the plan.
  8. Assignments: Each task should be assigned to a person, team, or group. Clear assignment of responsibility is crucial for accountability and the successful execution of any action plan. 

What are the key steps of an action plan?

The main point of an action plan is to ensure you dont 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 best practices will mean youre 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 memberswork 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 youre 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 project. 

Here’s a simple action plan example for a marketing team working on a new campaign:

Action plan objective: Increase brand awareness and boost product sales by 30% by the end of Q4 2023 through a localized multimedia marketing campaign.

Steps Tasks Team Start End Resources Progress

Research and planning

  • Market research (identify target audience and effective social channels)
  • Competitor analysis (for relevant insights and differentiation)
  • Set campaign KPIs
  • Emily
  • John

Jun 1, 2023

Jun 15, 2023

  • Market research tools
  • Competitor data

Campaign design

  • Develop creative concepts and messaging
  • Design multimedia content
  • Review and finalize designs
  • Emily
  • John
  • Rachel

Jun 16, 2023

Jul 15, 2023

  • Design software
  • Creative team and collaborators

Campaign setup

  • Set up social media ads
  • Coordinate with partners for content placement
  • Set up tracking and analytics
  • Emily
  • John
  • Sam
  • Rachel

Jul 16, 2023

Jul 31, 2023

  • Branded social media accounts
  • Ad budget
  • Partner contacts
  • Analytics software

Campaign launch

  • Launch the campaign
  • Monitor performance and make adjustments
  • Engage with audience
  • Sam
  • Emily
  • John
  • Rachel
  • Rashid

Aug 1, 2023

Dec 31, 2023

  • Campaign assets
  • Analytics tools
  • Paid channels

Campaign review and report

  • Collect and analyze campaign data
  • Prepare and present report
  • Conduct team debriefing and identify learnings for future campaigns
  • Sam
  • Emily
  • John
  • Rachel
  • Rashid

Jan 1, 2024

Jan 15, 2024

  • Data analytics tools
  • Reporting tools
  • Campaign data

Action plan template

An action plan template is a preformatted document providing a framework to outline, execute, and track the tasks and actions needed to accomplish your goal. It simplifies the action planning process by providing a ready-to-use format you can quickly fill out to create a robust action plan. 

Wrike’s action plan template simplifies goal and project management with an intuitive interface designed to help teams plan and launch projects with teams of any size. This template’s features enable real-time collaboration, easy task assignments, time tracking, and reporting.

Common issues like a lack of visibility on remote workers’ assignments and confusing project priorities are mitigated with functionalities such as: 

  • Organizing tasks by departments into folders, making the journey from “To Do” to “In Progress” to “Completed” smooth
  • Identifying dependencies and defining the priority of tasks to determine which tasks need to be done first
  • Providing a snapshot of the tasks due now and in the coming weeks, ensuring the project schedule is adhered to
  • Securing sensitive data from unauthorized personnel with permissions levels offering various levels of access and visibility for collaborators and stakeholders
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How to create an action plan with Wrike

Using project management tools helps to organize your action plan visually. With software such as Wrike, you can easily input your project resources, requirements, and timelines, and track your progress throughout the project.

As outlined above, the best way to jump-start your action plan is to use our pre-built template. It helps you take control of your task management by providing sample folders to organize tasks, a calendar for project scheduling, and pre-built 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.