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 breakdown of the 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 necessary resources, adhere to schedules, and track progress toward specific goals and project initiatives. 

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 prebuilt action plan template, which can jump-start your action plan process. 

What is the purpose of an action plan?

An action plan, also sometimes referred to as a plan of action, helps 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 the goals to be achieved, the teams and service providers to involve, and the 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 isn’t set in stone, because the environment in which projects operate is often subject to change. External factors such as market conditions, economic influences, technology advancements or failures, regulatory requirements, and unexpected events can impact the execution of any plan. A dynamic document allows for flexibility and adaptability so you can adjust your strategies in response to evolving circumstances.

Why are action plans important in project management?

​​An action plan in project management is a quick and easy way to keep projects on track. Creating an action plan means you can quickly map out the resources and requirements you need and sketch a timeline to complete tasks. 

Here are several benefits of using a strategic action plan in project management:

  • They’re simple and easy to set up, helping to maintain operational efficiency without taking much time.
  • They declutter managers’ minds by providing a framework for structuring new projects in a sensible order.
  • They clarify the objectives of the project and build consensus on how the work should be done.
  • They prepare you for predictable and preventable challenges and focus your resources to achieve your main goals for the project. 
  • They maximize personal and team productivity and resource allocation.
  • They reduce the possibility of forgetting tasks in the project.
  • They generate a goal-driven workflow, so you know what to work on throughout the project.
  • They provide 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 plan 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, complex, or long-term 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 additional 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, with 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 main 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 set 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 the strategic planning of 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 a plan of action is to ensure you don’t overlook critical tasks and milestones of your project. In its simplest form, developing an effective 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 the action plan in terms of 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. This should include a time frame with start and end dates for each task.

product screenshot of wrike blueprint on aqua background

Step 3: Identify critical tasks

Are there any specific steps that must be completed before others can start? These are critical time-bound 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 enough time to deliver them.

product screenshot of wrike gantt chart on aqua background

Step 4: Assign tasks

Now that 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, analyze key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics, and learn from mistakes or missteps to improve your action planning and project execution. If you work with a team, collect feedback and improvement suggestions from team members for better performance in the future.

product screenshot of wrike analyze on aqua background

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 members’ work schedules before assigning tasks to avoid conflicts. Clear communication enables responsible parties to prepare for their specific project tasks.
  • 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. After assessing your action plan 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 planning template in future projects. This minimizes the need to repeat work, saving a lot of time and reducing errors.

Who needs to write an action plan?

Action plans aren’t just for project managers — they’re handy for all sorts of professionals and individuals tackling personal or business projects. Action plans can also be used alone or with a team. When working with a team, the leader puts together the action plan with everyone’s input.

Developing an action plan helps individuals, managers, and organizations finish their projects more successfully. They’re great for getting started, keeping track of what needs to be done, 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.

A variation of a traditional action plan is a corrective action plan. Project managers and individuals use corrective action plans when they need to fix recurring problems or deviations in a project, process, or organization, so they don’t happen again in the future.

An example of an action plan 

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, 2024

Jun 15, 2024

  • Market research tools
  • Competitor data

Campaign design

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

Jun 16, 2024

Jul 15, 2024

  • 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, 2024

Jul 31, 2024

  • 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, 2024

Dec 31, 2024

  • 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, 2025

Jan 15, 2025

  • Data analytics tools
  • Reporting tools
  • Campaign data

Other action plan examples in project management include:

  • Launching a new product
  • Organizing an event
  • Improving customer service
  • Enhancing employee training
  • Expanding into new markets
  • Increasing your social media following

Maximizing efficiency with action plan templates

A project action plan template is a preformatted document providing a framework to outline, execute, and track the tasks and specific actions needed to accomplish your larger goal. It streamlines the action planning process by providing a ready-to-use format you can quickly fill out to create a robust action plan. This way, you don’t waste time making one from scratch using Excel, Google Docs, or Microsoft Word. 

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

product screenshot of wrike team action plan


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 offering various levels of access and visibility for collaborators and stakeholders

How to create an action plan with Wrike

Using project management tools helps to organize your business action plan visually and make it feel more achievable. With project management software like Wrike, you get a free action plan template included with your subscription — so 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 prebuilt plan of action and milestones template. It 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 all project work. 

Our template works for all different types of action plans. You can use it as:

  • A personal action plan template for personal projects
  • A business action plan template to simplify project management
  • A corrective action plan template to fix issues with an existing project

If you’re ready to develop action plans and track your progress while better managing your projects, 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.