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How to: Action plan template and instructions

Last updated

21 December 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

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An action plan is a framework for achieving a goal. In many cases, you must complete complex tasks to get closer to the objective. Action plans make it easier to focus, remember details, and stay on top of deadlines.

Creating an action plan doesn't just help you stay on track. It can become a template for achieving other goals and staying organized. 

Learning how to write an action plan with the appropriate level of detail allows you to get things done while building up to your goal. Let’s get into the guide, including an action plan template. 

What is an action plan?

An action plan is a documented collection of steps needed to achieve a certain goal. 

Putting your plan into writing divides a complex strategy into smaller achievable parts. This helps you simplify the journey, identify the necessary resources, and set reasonable deadlines.

Types of action plans include:

  • Business action plan

  • Marketing action plan

  • Sales action plan

  • Project action plan

  • Personal action plan

  • Educational action plan

Regardless of how large or small your objectives are, you can benefit from a detailed plan that helps you meet them.

What is the purpose of an action plan?

Creating an action plan can streamline your focus to the right activities at the right time. 

If you've achieved similar goals without a plan, you’ll notice how a roadmap can improve your tactics and speed up the process.

Key benefits of a well-designed action plan include:

Keeping the focus

Clearly defining your goals keeps your team on the same page throughout the process.

Structured approach

Breaking complex goals into manageable tasks makes the process more organized and easier to follow.

Prioritization

An action plan helps you prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency. 

You can easily identify critical elements and allocate resources accordingly, ensuring you direct efforts toward the most impactful activities.

Accountability

An action plan assigns responsibilities and establishes accountability for each listed task. 

Knowing who’s responsible for completing specific tasks promotes a sense of ownership and improves outcomes.

Resource allocation

Your action plan is the blueprint that makes sure the necessary tools, materials, or personnel are available to support its successful execution.

Progress tracking

A framework for monitoring progress toward the goal allows you to identify obstacles and take corrective actions as needed. Regular monitoring ensures the plan stays on course.

Besides helping you achieve the set goals, the plan is a collaboration tool. It allows all stakeholders to clearly understand the goals, tasks, timelines, and responsibilities.

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How to write an action plan

While action plans differ for each project, the basics of a successful plan are the same.

Whether you’re building a personal, business, or project plan, you need to follow the same general format:

Make your goal SMART

If you’re making an action plan, you already have a goal. However, it may not be detailed enough to build a robust framework. 

Creating a SMART goal lays the foundation for successful planning:

  • Specific: the goal should be highly specific and narrow in focus

  • Measurable: the goal and progress should be measurable by specific metrics

  • Achievable: the goal should be reasonable enough for you to be able to achieve it

  • Relevant: the goal should align with your values and long-term goals

  • Time-Bound: the goal should contain a reasonable deadline

Example: Your goal is to increase the number of website visits.

The SMART version: "Increase website traffic by 10% by March 1." 

Example: Your goal is to read more books.

The SMART version: "Read five books by the end of the year."

Identify tasks

You have to break a large goal down into manageable tasks. The next step is to list these tasks and actions that can help you achieve the goal step-by-step. 

Besides breaking the big task down, you have to prioritize your tasks. Otherwise, you could face problems with execution, especially if a large team is involved.

Just like the goal, each task must be as specific as possible. Vagueness leads to misunderstandings and misalignment with the primary goal.

Example: Your goal is to "increase website traffic by 10% by March 1." 

Your list of actions may look like this:

  • Conduct a technical SEO assessment and fix errors

  • Increase the number of blog posts to seven per week

  • Launch a new PPC campaign

  • Create an active YouTube channel

  • Start working with an influencer

These smaller tasks make the goal look less overwhelming and allow you to stay on track.

Create a timeline

Next, you need to create a timeline for the project based on the deadline you identified when setting a SMART goal. 

Determine the start and end date for each task you listed in the previous step.

Set realistic deadlines, considering the complexity and duration of each task. Be mindful of any time constraints related to the market, economy, and your internal team's needs.

Rely on historical data when creating a timeline. If you couldn’t do similar tasks quickly in the past, use this as your guide. 

Just like goals, deadlines should be achievable.

Example: "Complete the technical SEO assessment in one week and fix errors within two weeks."

Allocate resources

Once you know exactly how to achieve your goal, identify the resources required for your plan. 

They can include:

  • Team members: If this is a business project, assign roles to your team members and outline their responsibilities.

  • Third parties: You may need to outsource some tasks, so determine which partners can help you.

  • Equipment: This includes the software, tools, and instruments you need to complete the outlined tasks.

Example: You’re working on the website traffic goal. You may have to assign responsibilities to your marketing team, outsource SEO to a digital marketing agency, and invest in digital marketing tools.

At this point, you have sufficient information to evaluate the budget necessary for achieving your goal. You may have to adjust your tasks, timeline, and resources accordingly.  

Monitor the progress

While executing an action plan, you need to follow the progress closely. 

Since no action plan is set in stone, there’s always room for adjustment. You may have to change task priorities or adjust the budget for some components. In rare cases, you may have to push back the deadline.

To ensure everything’s going to plan, you’ll need to evaluate the progress according to your action plan. That means relying on the metrics you identified when creating your SMART goal and the milestones you listed when setting a timeline.  

Why do action plans fail?

Even the most well-written action plan could fail. Some of the most common challenges that affect the success of action plans include:

Lack of accountability and engagement

When people responsible for executing the plan aren't sufficiently engaged, they may not follow it enthusiastically. The plan may even add frustration, leading to burnout.

Ensuring your team understands the plan's importance and their responsibilities keeps the project moving in the right direction. 

If people are spread too thin, consider involving more team members to distribute the workload. Maintaining good morale and inspiring a sense of ownership drives engagement and support of the plan.

Poor communication

Communication between team members and other stakeholders requires special attention. 

If many people are involved, consider making communication methods and tools a part of your action plan.

Share the plan with everyone involved and ensure the latest version is always accessible. Your goal is to keep everyone on the same page throughout the entire process, not just at the start.  

No progress reports

Moving along the set timeline and achieving milestones isn't sufficient to ensure the success of your action plan. Sharing regular updates is an essential part of action plan implementation.  

Measuring progress and creating relevant reports ensures you can meet the deadline. It also shows your team members their impact on the project, increasing their engagement.

How to implement an action plan

By itself, an action plan contains everything your team needs to achieve success. Once in place, you need to manage the plan on an ongoing basis to make sure everyone stays on track.

Communication

Action plan implementation requires seamless communication between team members and other stakeholders. 

Online meetings and asynchronous communication tools are key to ensuring everyone understands the details. It’s also vital to maintain availability to answer questions that may arise.

The main element to communicate to everyone involved is the "why" of the plan. Everyone responsible for executing it must understand how their actions contribute to the plan's success and how it adds to the company's bottom line.

Rewards

Make sure to recognize and celebrate all achievements related to the action plan. 

Decide beforehand which tasks’ completion warrants recognition and rewards for your team members. This can boost morale, motivate the team, and maintain enthusiasm throughout the project. 

Sharing which actions you’ll reward before the project starts can increase productivity.

Feedback  

You'll likely face some obstacles once you begin implementing the action plan. What looks great on paper may be completely different in reality. This is why action plans are flexible.

Making adjustments is an integral part of a plan’s implementation. To ensure these changes are successful, seek feedback from the project participants. 

Regularly discussing the action plan with your team can provide valuable insight into making effective corrections. At the same time, it keeps the team in the loop and promotes engagement.

Action plan template

This simple action plan template can help you create a successful plan regardless of your goal.

Goal:

  • Clearly define the goal or objective you want to achieve

Tasks:

Task 1: Description of the task

  • Responsible: Person/team responsible for completing the task

  • Deadline: Date by which they should complete the task

Task 2: Description of the task etc.

Timeline:

  • Start date: Date when you’ll initiate the action plan

  • End date: Date when you expect to complete the action plan

Resource allocation:

  • Budget: Allocated budget for the action plan

  • Personnel: List of team members or departments involved

  • Equipment/technology: Any specific equipment or technology needed

Communication plan:

  • Stakeholders: List of relevant stakeholders to inform

  • Communication channels: Preferred channels for communication

  • Frequency: How often you’ll share updates or progress reports

Monitoring and evaluation:

  • Progress tracking: Method or tool to track progress

  • Review dates: Scheduled dates to review progress and make adjustments

  • Evaluation criteria: Metrics or criteria to assess the effectiveness of the action plan

The more details you add to the plan, the easier it will be to implement. The goal is to make the action plan transparent for everyone involved.

Creating an effective action plan

An effective action plan is the foundation of any project. It can provide much-needed structure to your business operations and contribute to a favorable outcome. 

Ensuring the right goal format, outlining the tasks, and setting up a timeline can streamline your efforts. This makes it easier to remain focused on your goals. 

With an action plan, even the toughest objectives become easier to accomplish.

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