Action Items

Jan 24, 2011 1 Comment by

Big change initiatives can usually benefit from taking advantage of a project management best practice called “action items”. In their simplest form, action items are an on-going, ad-hoc “to-do list” of smaller tasks that need to be addressed in order to maintain project momentum.

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In my last post I listing my first five tips for effective action items:

  1. Write them down. (Seems obvious, but it’s not always done.)
  2. Focus responsibility. (Ideally one person owns each given item)
  3. Set a date. (Commit to when the item will be completed)
  4. Necessary & sufficient: (Cut trivial items)
  5. Don’t fumble the hand-off: (Double-check ownership)

…and here are five more tips to make your action items more useful:

6. Ensure Clarity by Reviewing Action Items: Reviewing action items can help to draw out confusion and verify that someone not only agrees to do an activity – but also understands exactly what they are agreeing to do. One rule of thumb I use is to read the item back to the group as soon as I write it and then review all action items as a list to close out the meeting.

7. Share them: Most of us attend so many meetings that we lose track of all the promises we’ve made by the end of the day.  It can really help if the team establishes a single repository for action items.  It may be a running list that’s kept in the minutes of a recurring meeting. It may be a database or a spreadsheet. Regardless of the technique, make sure that everyone who has an action item knows where to find the list.

8. Collect them consistently: An action item process works best if it’s used consistently. It breaks down if people take it too casually.  Collecting and tracking action items will be especially critical if attendance at meetings varies or the team meets infrequently. I ask teams to have a fixed ground rule that action items will always be written down and shared.

9. Keep Them Current: You may decide as a team to have one person (such as the Project Manager) maintain the current status of your action items list.  In that case, the PM will need regular progress updates from each team member.  Another approach is to let everyone update the status of their items individually.  In this case, be sure to create clear rules to cover things like who can update what and what constitutes an action item being “complete”.

10. KISS.  Finally, make sure that the process you use is as simple as possible.  Leverage whatever technology or team collaboration system you currently use. To keep status reporting simple, I like to follow the 5-10 rule… It shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to check my action items or 10 minutes to update them. If it takes longer, you’re making this too hard.

Every team involved in making a big change happen eventually runs into topics that can’t be settled on the spot. Consider making action items a matter of habit so your project team can avoid the risk of having these things fall through the cracks.  Stick to some of these tips and your action items will be even more effective.


Questions for Chatter

  1. What tools work best for tracking action items?
  2. What can you do when people are hesitant to take accountability?

Incoming search terms:

  • which step in the communication process requires you to track action items
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Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Team Dynamics

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One Response to “Action Items”

  1. The Art of Showing Up | theBigRocks of Change says:

    […] “Action Items” (How to make sure people follow through on the work that needs to get done after a meeting.) […]

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