What is an Action Plan and How to Create One + an Example

An action plan is an organized list of steps that you can take to reach a desired goal. Creating an action plan requires carefully considering resources, goals, and available time. With a well-structured action plan, you can reach your goals in the most efficient way possible. Here’s how to create an action plan – plus some helpful examples and time-saving tips to guide you during your strategic planning process.

What is an Action Plan?

At one point or another, you may have a task that seems larger than life. But an action plan helps.

In essence, an action plan is a systematic, detailed blueprint, or a comprehensive document, that lays out the strategy to achieve a certain goal or set of goals. It’s similar to a roadmap, providing clear directions on how you can move from your current status to your desired state.

The concept of an action plan is not limited to any specific domain, making it a versatile tool. It can be applied in various fields such as business, education, project management, personal growth, healthcare, and so forth.

A well-crafted action plan typically encompasses several elements:

  • Objective: The objective is the ultimate goal that you aim to achieve. It needs to be clear and precise. This is the “destination” you’re striving to reach, so it’s vital to define it in a way that leaves no room for ambiguity. Often, the SMART framework (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) is used to frame these objectives.

Action plan - objectives

  • Steps or Tasks: Once the goal is set, the next stage is to break it down into smaller, manageable steps or tasks. Each task should be straightforward, feasible, and should contribute directly to the attainment of the ultimate goal. For example, when you break down a large project into smaller, manageable tasks, it keeps you on track to success, and makes staying motivated in business easier during tough projects.

Action plan - tasks

  • Resources: For each task, you should also identify the necessary resources. These can be physical resources, such as equipment or materials, or human resources, like specific skills or personnel. By identifying these upfront, you can better plan and mitigate potential bottlenecks.

Action plan - resources

  • Timeline: It’s also crucial to set a timeline for each task, which includes a start and an end date. This not only instills a sense of urgency but also helps to track progress over time. A well-planned schedule can also prevent tasks from overlapping or clashing.

action plan - timeline

  • Responsibility Assignment: Each task needs a responsible person or team who will see it through to completion. Defining this ensures accountability and prevents tasks from being overlooked.

Action plan - responsibility assignment

  • Contingency Plan: Despite the best of planning, unforeseen circumstances may arise. Having a contingency plan prepares you for such scenarios, ensuring that your plan remains robust and flexible.

action plan -contingency plan

  • Tracking and Evaluation: An important aspect of an action plan is tracking progress and evaluating outcomes. This step is essential as it allows you to adjust your plan as needed, based on the performance of each task or changing circumstances.

Action plan Tracking and Evaluation


Creating an Effective Action Plan

Creating an effective action plan is an integral part of achieving any goal. In the following video, Brian Tracy, a well-known speaker and author in the field of self-development, outlines his method for formulating such a plan. Tracy’s process, built from years of experience, provides clear and practical steps that can be applied to any project or objective.

How to Write an Action Plan

An effective action plan operates as a guiding light, leading the way towards achieving specific objectives, milestones, and goals. For any project or substantial task, it can be the pivotal element that swings the balance between success and failure.

To make the process of creating an action plan easier, we’ve provided a summary table below. This table functions like a checklist, outlining clear steps and eliminating any confusion about what needs to be done next.

StepsDescriptionKey Points
1. Define the goalEstablish a clear and concise objective that guides the rest of the plan.Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
2. Identify the necessary actionsOutline the specific tasks and activities that need to be performed to achieve the defined goal.Tasks should be specific, measurable, and have clear deliverables. Project management tools and techniques can be useful in this step.
3. Assign tasks and responsibilitiesEnsure all the tasks have a designated person responsible for their completion.Responsibilities should be clearly defined and each person should understand their role. Consider strengths, skills, and availability when assigning tasks.
4. Determine the timeline and deadlinesCreate a timeline that outlines when each task should start and finish, and when milestones should be reached.A clear timeline and deadlines keep the project on track, prioritize tasks, and ensure timely completion. Use a calendar or Gantt chart to outline the schedule.
5. Establish a system for monitoring progressImplement tools, processes, and metrics that can be used to measure the project's progress against the timeline and goals.Monitoring system should be simple, efficient, and easy to use. Provides real-time visibility into the project's progress and helps in accountability.
6. Track progress, evaluate, and adjust as necessaryRegularly review the actual progress of the project and make any necessary adjustments to the plan, timeline, and actions.Continuous evaluation and adjustment ensure the project remains on track and aligns with goals and objectives. Use key metrics for evaluation, like task completion rates, timeline progress, and resource utilization.

Having this overview can be a great starting point, but a deeper understanding of each step will further assist you in crafting a robust action plan. So let’s get started and explore each of these steps in more detail.

Step 1: Define the goal

Defining project goals is a critical first step in the action-planning process. It involves establishing a clear and concise objective that guides the rest of the plan. A well-defined goal serves as a roadmap for the team, providing direction and focus for their efforts. It also helps to keep everyone aligned and on track, ensuring that the plan is executed effectively.

To define a goal effectively, it is important to consider several key factors. First, the goal should be specific, meaning that it should clearly state what is to be achieved. Second, it should be measurable, allowing for progress to be tracked and evaluated.

Third, it should be attainable, meaning that it should be realistic and achievable given the available resources and constraints. Fourth, the goal should be relevant and aligned with the organization’s overall strategy and goals. Finally, it should have a specific timeline, with deadlines established to ensure that the goal is achieved within a reasonable period of time.

Step 2: Project management – Identify the necessary actions

This step outlines the specific tasks and activities that need to be performed in order to achieve the defined goal. It involves breaking down the goal into smaller, manageable steps and determining what needs to be done to accomplish each step. The actions should be specific, measurable, and have clear deliverables.

Project management plays a vital role in this step, as it helps to ensure that the necessary actions are planned and executed effectively. Project managers use a variety of tools and techniques to identify the necessary actions, such as creating a work breakdown structure, creating a project schedule, and identifying project dependencies.

They also work closely with the team to ensure that the necessary resources are available, that risks are identified and managed, and that progress is tracked and reported. Using project management best practices, the team can ensure that the necessary actions are performed efficiently and effectively and that the project remains on track and on schedule.

Step 3: Assign tasks and responsibilities to project managers and any person responsible

Assign tasks and responsibilities to project managers and any person responsible

Assigning tasks and responsibilities is a key step in the action planning process, as it ensures that all the tasks have a designated person responsible for their completion. This step involves identifying who will be responsible for each of the necessary actions identified in the previous step and assigning ownership for the delivery of each task. It is important to ensure that responsibilities are clearly defined and that each person understands their role and what is expected of them.

Project managers play a central role in assigning responsibilities, as they are responsible for ensuring that the right person is assigned to each task. They work closely with team members to understand their strengths, skills, and availability, and make assignments based on this information.

They may also assign backup resources to ensure the team can complete tasks even if the primary person responsible is unavailable. It is important to remember that assigning responsibilities is a collaborative process, and that team members should have the opportunity to provide input and feedback. Employ team building exercises to promote teamwork, and provide streamlined methods for employees to communicate with managers and decision makers.

Step 4: Determine the timeline and deadlines

This step involves creating a timeline that outlines when each task should start and finish, and when milestones should be reached. The timeline should be based on the scope of the project, the availability of resources, and any other constraints. Use a calendar or gannt chart to outline the exact schedule for each step.

Having a clear timeline and deadlines helps to keep the project on track and ensures that tasks are completed in a timely manner. It also provides a clear visual representation of the project’s progress and helps to identify any potential issues or delays.

Deadlines also help to keep team members accountable and focused, as they know when they need to have their tasks completed. Deadlines also help to prioritize tasks and ensure that the most important work is completed first.

Step 5: Establish a system for monitoring progress

Establishing a system for monitoring progress provides a way to track the project’s progress and identify any issues or challenges that may arise. This step involves implementing tools, processes, and metrics that can be used to measure the project’s progress against the timeline and goals. The system for monitoring progress should be simple, efficient, and easy to use.

Having a system for monitoring progress is important for several reasons. First, it provides real-time visibility into the project’s progress, allowing the project manager and team to quickly identify any issues or challenges that may arise.

Second, it helps to keep everyone accountable and focused, as team members know that their work will be monitored and evaluated. Third, it allows for continuous improvement, as the project manager can use the data and metrics collected to identify areas for improvement and make adjustments as needed.

Step 6: Track progress, evaluate, and adjust as necessary

Evaluating and adjusting as necessary is a critical step in the action planning process, as it provides a way to ensure that the project remains on track and is executed effectively.

This step involves regularly reviewing the actual progress of the project and making any necessary adjustments to the plan, timeline, and actions. The evaluation should be based on the system for monitoring progress that was established in a previous step.

Tracking progress is an important part of this step, as it provides the data and metrics needed to evaluate the project’s progress and identify any areas for improvement. The project manager should use the system for monitoring progress to track key metrics, such as task completion rates, timeline progress, and resource utilization. This information can then be used to assess the project’s progress against the goals and timeline and to identify any areas for improvement.

By evaluating and adjusting as necessary, the project manager can ensure that the project remains on track and is executed effectively. This helps to minimize disruptions and delays and ensures that the project stays aligned with the goals and objectives.

The process of evaluating and adjusting should be continuous, with regular evaluations and progress reviews. This allows the project manager to respond quickly to any changes or challenges that may arise, and to make any necessary adjustments to keep the project moving forward. For example, you may need to employ some time saving tips or delegate to get back on schedule. Alternatively, you may need to try some new call to action examples to more effectively impact customer behavior to meet your goals.

Do I Need an Action Plan?

Everyone who has set business goals should strive for effective business planning. Without an action plan, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed by significant goals or lose sight of what perspectives should guide the decision-making process. Having an organized, realistic plan is how to stay motivated and stay focused on reaching success.

This is especially true for larger companies that are trying to navigate complex projects or launch multiple initiatives at the same time. An action plan can help them stay organized, track project progress, anticipate potential challenges, and simplify hiring.

Smaller businesses can also benefit from having an action plan, as it will provide a road map for scaling up operations in the future. An effective action plan should include strategies, resources, timelines, revenue targets, and measures of success. The business budget and cash flow should always be taken into account when creating an action plan.

action plan

Why Your Business Should Have an Action Plan

Every business should have an action plan as it’s essential to success and keeping your company on track. Here are five reasons your business needs one:

  • Clarity of Purpose: An action plan lets everyone in your company know exactly what they need to accomplish, so they can stay focused and productive. Set call-to-action examples and performance expectations so everyone knows what to strive for.
  • Measurable Results: Having specific goals and a timeline helps you keep track of your progress, see what’s working, and adjust plans when needed.
  • Achievable Goals: Action plans make sure that you don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic objectives. Outline steps for success in manageable pieces.
  • Effective Use of Resources: An action plan helps you prioritize tasks and resources, so you can get the best return on investment (ROI). Public relations strategies and campaigns are two common examples.
  • Increased Accountability: By clearly defining roles, responsibilities, deadlines, and expectations, everyone involved is more accountable for their tasks and the success of the project overall.

Plan of Action Example (Template)

A well-structured action plan helps to keep the project on track and on schedule providing a clear path to success. Here’s an action plan template example you can use to inspire you for your own projects:

I. Define the goal:

A. Objective: Launch a new product line

B. SMART Goal: To launch a new product line in 6 months, generating $500,000 in revenue within the first year.

II. Identify necessary actions:

A. Conduct market research to determine the target audience and demand

B. Develop product prototypes and conduct testing

C. Create marketing materials and promotional campaigns

D. Set up the supply chain and logistics

E. Launch product through digital and physical channels

III. Assign responsibilities:

A. Market research: Marketing team

B. Product development: R&D team

C. Marketing plan, materials, and campaigns: Marketing team

D. Supply chain and logistics: Operations team

E. Product launch: Marketing and Operations teams

IV. Determine timeline and deadlines:

A. Market research: Month 1-2

B. Product development: Month 2-4

C. Marketing materials and campaigns: Month 4-5

D. Supply chain and logistics: Month 5-6

E. Product launch: Month 6

V. Establish a system for monitoring progress:

A. Key metrics: Revenue, market share, customer satisfaction

B. Tools: Project management software, weekly progress meetings

C. Progress review meetings: Every 2 weeks

VI. Evaluate and adjust as necessary:

A. Regularly review revenue and customer satisfaction data

B. Adjust marketing strategy and promotions as necessary

C. Monitor supply chain and logistics, and make adjustments as needed

D. Evaluate timeline and deadlines, and adjust as necessary to ensure a timely product launch.

Tips for Building a Fantastic Action Plan

Building an action plan is the first step to reaching your business goals. Here are five tips for creating a fantastic action plan:

  • Be Clear & Specific: Make sure that everyone involved in the project understands what needs to be done and when it needs to be completed. Set measurable and achievable targets, with specific timelines and deadlines.
  • Prioritize Tasks: Identify which tasks should take priority so you can focus on what’s important right now, while still having a plan for the future.
  • Start Small: Break large projects down into smaller components that you can do in stages, rather than trying to accomplish everything at once. Team-building exercises are a great way to keep energy and motivation high.
  • Outline Resources Needed: Research ahead of time what resources will be needed for each task and make sure you have everything in place beforehand.
  • Include Room for Change: The reality is that things don’t always go as planned so be prepared to adjust timelines or objectives as needed along the way.

Action Plan Vs To-Do List

Action plans and to-do lists may seem similar at first glance, but they are two different tools that serve specific purposes. An action plan is an organized approach to achieving a goal. It helps you break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable pieces and outlines the steps you need to take in order to reach your objectives.

A to-do list is a tool used to keep track of day-to-day tasks or items that need attention. It’s typically used as a checklist for getting things done in a certain timeframe. While both can be helpful when it comes to staying organized and productive, action plans offer a more comprehensive approach to reaching longer-term goals.

Action Plan Vs Strategic Plan

An action plan and a strategic plan are two distinct frameworks used in planning and executing goals, each serving its unique function. An action plan is a detailed outline of the specific, immediate steps required to achieve a short-term objective. It focuses on the ‘how’ aspect, breaking down larger tasks into smaller, actionable items, typically with a shorter time horizon.

On the other hand, a strategic plan is a comprehensive roadmap designed for long-term goals. It involves a broader perspective, focusing on the ‘why’ behind the goals. This plan outlines the organization’s vision, mission, and core objectives over a more extended period, often including market analysis, competitive positioning, and long-term resource allocation. While action plans are more about tactical execution, strategic plans provide the overarching direction and purpose that guide these actions.

Both plans are crucial: the strategic plan sets the course, and the action plan drives the day-to-day activities needed to steer the ship towards the destination outlined in the strategic plan.

Action Plan Vs Project Plan

An action plan and a project plan are both tools used to help maintain organization and productivity when working toward a specific goal. Action plans focus on smaller tasks that need to be completed and prioritize them in an organized list.

Project plans are more comprehensive, providing an overview of all the steps required for completing a particular project. They usually include timelines, deadlines, resources needed, and other specifics. While action plans can help define the daily tasks necessary for completing a project, they should ultimately be formulated as part of the larger project plan.

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Joshua Sophy Joshua Sophy is the Editor for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 16 years. A professional journalist with 20 years of experience in traditional media and online media, he attended Waynesburg University and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. He has held roles of reporter, editor and publisher, having founded his own local newspaper, the Pottsville Free Press.