A complete guide on writing actions items and using them efficiently to drive projects
Most of us have been in scenarios where we step out of the meeting room (or virtual) feeling good about the discussion. Attendees shared lots of great ideas and we feel positive about achieving our goal. However, fast forward a few days and there has been no progress on the project. The excitement that was witnessed in the meeting room has died down with a few team members finding it difficult to recollect the details of the discussion.
The above scenario is very common in organizations, resulting in significant loss of talent, time, energy and money. While the meeting attendees have a genuine intent to drive the project forward, lack of clarity and ownership often result in delayed or failed projects.
Action Items SAVE THE DAY!
What is an action item?
Action items are tasks, events or activities assigned to individuals. Ideally, action items should be bite-sized tasks that should be owned by a single individual and completion of these action items should bring you closer to your project milestones. A study published by Dept. of Psychology, University of Nebraska & Clemson University highlights the importance of action items
“Indeed, actions taken well after a meeting ends can make or break attendees’ perceptions of meeting success. Therefore, it is critical that meeting organizers follow through on meeting objectives by sending meeting minutes to all relevant parties as a record of decisions made during the meeting, the action plan for next steps, and the designated roles and responsibilities assigned to achieve meeting outcomes”
In this article, we share a guide on writing actions items and using them efficiently to drive projects.
How to write action items?
Since, action items are meant to outline the tasks that need to be completed, they should be simple and should clearly articulate the assigned task. Every action item should succinctly answer the following four questions for the reader:
- What is the task? This should explain the action that needs to be completed by the task owner. A good rule of thumb is to start each action item with a verb. For example, instead of writing “analysis would be conducted”, we should write “Conduct analysis”
- Who is the owner? Every action item should have an owner. This owner might not always be the person who actually executes the task but this person is accountable for the task and has the responsibility to drive this task to completion. Task ownership should be aligned during the meeting when all the attendees are present to share their point of view to prevent misalignment at a later date
- When is it due? Every action item should have a due date and the due date should be discussed during the meeting to ensure all stakeholders are comfortable. Due dates also inform relative prioritization for action item owners incase they are juggling multiple tasks. There might be actions that require more time to estimate a due date or completion date, for such scenarios, the due date should capture the date when the action item owner would revert to the group with a completion date for the task (commonly known as DFD or Date for a Date)
- What will prevent task completion? Incase the task owner is aware of any blockers that might prevent completion of the action item by the due date, this should be captured here to be surfaced to the stakeholders or leadership for support. For example, the action item owner is already working on two high priority projects and might not be able to prioritize this action till after the former's due date. This is also a good time to capture any dependencies that might be lead to failure or delay in completion of action item. For exaple, engineering team needs to build a webpage which is dependent upon finalizing the webpage design by the UX designer.
How to use action items effectively?
Now that we know how action items are written, here are three key elements that will help you capture action items and use them to drive projects.
- During the meeting: Align on action items. One of the biggest reasons for incomplete action items is misalignment on tasks. During the meeting, it is a good practice to summarize action items along with owners and due dates to ensure all stakeholders are aligned. This can be done by the meeting owner or by the meeting minutes owner
- After the meeting: Circulate action items. Once the meeting is over, it is critical to share action items with the audience while the content is still fresh in everyone’s mind. This gives the attendees another opportunity to review the task and point out any inconsistencies. Meeting outcomes or action items can be shared in two ways - the meeting owner or meeting minute owner can share action items as part of the meeting minutes. They can collate meeting notes including the action items and share using preferred communication channel. Alternatively, this two step process can be condensed into a single step of documenting action items using Loopin which gets automatically shared with all stakeholders and task owners. Loopin lets you share all meeting outcomes (including notes and action items), seamlessly with meeting attendees
- A few days after the meeting: Follow up. This step is critical but often missed easily. No-one wants to miss a deadline or delay project because the owner forgot to work on the assigned action item or the task could not prioritize. This holds true for the project owners as well, if they have self-assigned action items. The project owner can setup reminders for themselves and check-in with other task owners on the status of the assigned actions. An application like Loopin does this heavy lifting for you - Loopin notifies the tasks owners of their due action items and helps drive projects to completion by ensuring that action items are never just “forgotten”