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How to Turn an ‘Action Plan’ Into a Well-Structured ‘To Do’ List

Author: David Brock, president, Partners in Excellence

My life seems to be spent in one meeting after another. Reviews of all types, planning sessions, problem solving sessions, training—you name it, I go from meeting to meeting.

In most of those meetings, we are trying to address some issue–how to win a deal, how to address performance issues, how to address organizational/structural issues, how to address new opportunities or problems.

In each of these meetings, there are the the follow-ups, action plans, next steps, or to-dos. These are critical; they enable us to make progress in achieving our goals and objectives.

Action Plans: A Well-Structured To-Do List

But our action plans lose a lot of their strength and purposefulness because we construct them so poorly. For example, some from today:

  • Meet with the customer and partner.
  • Evaluate potential partners.
  • Develop plan to address customer concerns.
  • Develop staffing plan.
  • Identify project risks.
  • …and I could go on.

Perhaps, I’m the only one that experiences this, but often, I come back to these reviewing them, thinking, “WTF were we talking about? What does this mean?”

The Elements of a Effective Action Plan

For these action plans to be effective and impactful they must have several elements:

  1. Who is responsible? For example, “Dave, meet with the customer and partner…”
  2. They have to be specific! For example, the customer and partners have names, “Dave meet with Dan and Brian from the customer and Jackie from the partner…”
  3. They have to be time bound. For example, “Dave meet with Dan, Brian, and Jackie, by December 2…”
  4. They have to achieve a defined purpose or outcome. “Dave, meet with Dan, Brian, and Jackie, by December 2, to develop the implementation plan for this purchase. It must identify all risks, project responsibilities, project plans, target dates and resource requirements……..”

See how this changes the perspective and drives us to better outcomes? We know who is responsible, who is involved, when we need to complete the item and what successfully completing it looks like.

We are trying to be as focused and purposeful as possible. We are trying to remove any possibility for misunderstanding, forgetting, or ambiguity.

We miss goals or deadlines when we aren’t specific. We create rework when we aren’t specific. We risk misunderstanding or confusion when we aren’t specific. We fail to achieve–at least as effectively and efficiently as possible when we aren’t specific.

Focus on building well structured “To-dos.” You’ll be amazed at what you accomplish.

Afterword: For extra credit points, try this approach for structuring your meetings. For example, “We are meeting at this date and time to accomplish these objectives. At the end of the meeting we hope to have achieved this. Please bring this information … and be prepared to discuss these issues …” You’ll find yourself having far more impactful meetings–whether with customers or internally.


Author David Brock is president, Partners in Excellence. Read more from David Brock here.

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