Action Items: Definition, Benefits, How to Make Them
14 Jan, 2022
Many people create checklists and lists of tasks on their smartphones, laptops, and notebooks. This is called task management. It is a great way to keep structure in your life and know which tasks you want to complete in a given time period. When you work at an organisation, these tasks are called “action items lists”, and the tasks themselves “action items”.
What are action items?
An action item is a specific task. Action items are often created because complex tasks are best managed when they are broken down into different parts. When an action item is assigned, it means that someone is accountable for completing the specific task. In general, an action item consists of three things, the what, who, and when.
- What: Actions that need to be done
- Who: Responsible party for the task
- When: Due date of the task
What: Actions that need to be done.
This is critical to the success of the action item. Because it will tell someone what they need to accomplish for the assignment. Not only must this be precise, but it also must be succinct and direct so that no doubts remain.
Who: Person responsible for the task.
The responsible party can be a single person or multiple team members. They are the “action takers” for the work. An action item is useful when it is clear who needs to take the action.
When: Due date of the task.
Due dates are the length of time that you have to finish the task. It’s possible that this figure is called the deadline for the project. Instead of being referred to in informal timings and dates, it is better if this term was solely used in incomplete time and date format.
Action item templates
If you want more attributes than the ones above (which are the standard ones), you can create your own action item templates. Action item templates can be easily created in an action item tracking system. When you are creating multiple action items and need more than the basic attributes, an action item template becomes very useful.
Attributes that can be linked with action items
Action items can contain multiple pieces of information to make them as clear and comprehensive as possible. This way everybody that reads them is on the same page. Some examples of this are:
A unique reference will help you when checking your list of action items. The number will make sure that you can find the item and determine whether it has been completed. The reference also makes things easier for the team. When you send them the number, it will be easier for them to check the action item.
Next to open and closed, an action item can also have other statuses such as, in progress, in review, cancelled, delegated, approved, or rejected. It all depends on what you need to make the task better. Make sure your statuses make the definition of your action item clear.
When defining your action items, you can set a priority if two or more tasks are due at around the same time. This way you make sure that the most important task will be completed first and check if there is still time to complete other tasks.
A concise description of the task to be done. This is required to provide context and ensure everyone has the same understanding of what needs to be done. A good description also makes it easier for the person responsible for the item, as doing this task will now be more explicit.
Everything you need to know before starting the action. For example, technical designs, project specifications, user interface concepts, and other resources. So, this is where you can put extra information that may be helpful to the person responsible, such as the business requirements (lightweight) and technical design (in-depth).
Issue or Risk
Within big projects that can be complicated, we need to know if there are any risks or issues associated with the action items as well as their performance. Action items can be linked with certain risks and vice versa. This way, you can be more aware of the tasks you are doing.
In the comment section of the action items, you can add extra notes so you can remember what to do, give updates, clarifications, extra documents, and other information. This is a great place to add notes when you need to do the task, so everyone involved in the project knows what to do.
The owner of an action item is the person responsible for completing a task. The owner will make sure the task is done on time and will check if everything has been completed. If not, he may ask someone else to help him finish the task if need be. They are in charge of the action.
The creator is the person who created the action item. The creator may also be the owner, but it doesn’t have to be. The creator is the person who requested that an action item is created. If there are more people involved in creating or approving an action item, they will receive a notification for this.
Planned completion date
The planned completion date is the day that you expect to finish the work, but it may change. Via the comment section, you can add a note if the task requires more time than expected. The owner should not forget that this date is planned and may well change, so he will be aware of any possible changes before starting the project.
Actual completion date
The actual completion date is the date the task has been finished. This date will help project managers get an overview of how long a task has taken to be completed, and see if the project is on schedule.
A stakeholder is someone who has an interest in the action item, for example, a person responsible. This stakeholder will work with the owner or needs to be aware of the task. For example, it could be the finance department.
What are the benefits of action items?
Although action items lists can be long and seem somewhat tedious, it does not take too much time to record them all. By creating action items lists you can have the following benefits:
Action items lists provide clarity about what needs to be done. This way everyone involved knows what has to be done and can focus on the task for which they are responsible. By working according to the action items list, one is always aware of their goals throughout the project or work cycle.
Prioritize your action items; this way you will know exactly what needs to be done first, second or third. Low, medium, and high priority is often the chosen way within action item management, but it’s up to you which method of prioritizing you use.
You can track action items’ progress, and get an overview of how far you are with the entire project. You will be able to see if there are any delays or problems that you need to take care of.
When you carry out an action item, you can take notes and update the list to make it complete. This way, you will have a well-developed list of details.
By having a clear description of each task and its owner/action items list, people know what is expected from them; this makes it easier for
Action items bring time management to your project. With the number of tasks to complete, you have a clear schedule on how everything should be done.
When an action item is well-defined, it will result in better performance and better results, making it easier for everyone involved to understand what is expected from them.
With all the tasks in one list, it is easier to keep track of things and monitor the completion or progress of each task. It can also be used as a reference for new employees or clients who are not familiar with how your business works.
Action items are the friend of a project manager. They bring structure and order to the project. They help you lower stress and find relief because you won’t have to remember everything to do, freeing up space in your brain.
When and where are action items usually created?
There are multiple places that action items can be created. They can be made on an existing list, like a to-do list, or on the action items list of the project.
They can also be created from a meeting. It is important to have well-managed meetings, and action items help you stay organized during them. Managing meeting tasks are key to keeping meetings on track, and giving the meeting value.
Action items can also be created from an email of higher up in the company, asking you to do something. They might require you to break down the work into smaller action items.
Action items can also be created from your own idea. When you have thought about the bigger picture, you can then create action items based on that idea.
Writing action items
There are no strict rules for writing an action item. However, there are two main guidelines for writing action items. When making an action item list, you will first need to gather all the tasks required for your project.
Start your action item with a verb.
An action is something you need to do. Therefore it is best to use a verb to convey the message in a clear way. Start with: create, identify, communicate, negotiate, do, find, organize etc.
- Read the … before the next meeting.
- Analyse … of the project.
- Find … within a week.
- Create a list of … that will be discussed next week.
A verb will make the action clear and simple. You can also use adverbs to modify the action items.
Use bullet points to specify.
When you are not sure if it is clear enough, it is best to include extra details with bullet points. This will make it more specific and clear what action is expected. For example, if the action is to identify a supplier you can add bullet points such as:
- Find five options
- Verify inventory with them
- Set up a meeting with the ones that pass
Of course, this is an example. You can define the bullet points as you wish or not include them if you are sure your action item list is clear enough.
Optimise Action Item Tracking with ECLIPSE
Action items are an integral part of project management because it is clear to your team members what they will need to do. If you feel that your other team members are getting behind on things, or if you are in charge of a project, it can be beneficial to use an Action Item Tracking System to complete tasks. This way, you will have an overview of all the tasks that need to be done, prioritize them and ensure they are completed on time.