What Is an Action Plan? Definition and How to Make Yours

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 6 December 2022

Published 6 December 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An action plan is a collection of goals and the steps you can take to reach them. They're useful for guiding you through complex processes in work and personal environments. If you're interested in making an action plan, learning about it can help you create one successfully. In this article, we answer the question 'what is an action plan,' describe the benefits of writing an action plan, detail the steps you can follow to write one, and provide an example action plan you can use as inspiration.

Related: Career Planner: Definition and How to Outline Your Career

What is an action plan?

Learning the answer to 'what is an action plan?' can help you discover more about what it is and explore how creating and using it in your life can be helpful. An action plan is a document or collection of information that helps you organise projects, tasks and goals so you can focus on accomplishing a project or task. Action plans can look different depending on who creates them, but they often contain several common components like objectives, dates and measurable data like profits or ratings.

Action plans offer time-based tasks that you can complete to make progress towards a goal or objective. For instance, if you're a manager, you can consider making an action plan to lead your team to success. Those who are seeking jobs or focusing on career advancement can create action plans to detail the necessary steps in the process. If you create an action plan, you can refer to it when you're unsure about the next steps.

Related: How to Make a Career Plan and Set Career Goals (With Benefits)

Benefits of writing an action plan

Depending on your situation, creating and using an action plan can improve your ability to reach your goals. These are some of the benefits of writing an action plan:

  • identify a defined method for advancing

  • enhance motivation for reaching goals

  • communicate information to your team

  • improve your organisational skills

  • set specific time-based objectives to reach

  • centralise information and project outcomes

Related: What Are Organisational Skills and How Can You Develop Them?

How to write an action plan

These are some steps you can take to write an action plan:

1. Set SMART goals

Setting goals is an important part of developing your action plan, and SMART goals can help you be deliberate about the goals you create. These are some important attributes of SMART goals:

  • Specific: To make your action plan goals specific, you can focus on who, what, when, where and how you or your organisation can achieve the goal. Creating a specific goal allows you to communicate it better to team members and develop clear motivation for achieving it.

  • Measurable: Making a goal measurable means you have specific criteria you can use to track your progress before you set the goal and begin working towards it. Understanding your progress can help you better understand if changing the goal or approach can be helpful.

  • Attainable: When setting a SMART goal, it's important to have realistic goals that you can achieve. If you set goals that are too difficult, it can affect morale and lower your motivation to reach them.

  • Relevant: Setting a relevant goal means it applies directly to the people trying to achieve it. For business or team goals, this means each person in the group understands how the goal affects their work and how achieving it can improve the company or organisation.

  • Time-based: To ensure you achieve the goal in a timeframe that positively affects your operations, it's important to set a target that corresponds to it. Consider assessing the target and estimating the time required to reach it when determining what your time element is.

Related: SMART Goals: Definition, Template and Examples

2. Create a list of actions

Next, create a list of tasks to complete that focus on reaching your goal. This process entails dividing your main goal into smaller objectives. By doing so, you can make the final goal seem achievable and move closer to it in an organised, step-by-step manner. Make sure the actions are attainable and related to your goal. If a given task seems too vague or intimidating, you can further divide it into two or three smaller action items that seem more doable.

3. Set a timeline

Besides setting a deadline for your main goal, you can also establish a timeframe for completing each task in the process. It's essential to create a timeline you can reasonably follow so you can maintain consistent progress towards your goal. Assess the requirements and consider the amount of time you need to complete each item on your list.

4. Designate resources

If you're managing a large project, you may be assigning tasks to a number of people. Assess the skills and abilities of your team to determine which of them are best qualified to perform each task. Then, write down who is in charge of the objective and the resources needed to complete the task, such as money, equipment and personnel.

5. Monitor the progress

Evaluating and monitoring your progression towards achieving your goals is an important part of implementing your action plan. You can use regular meetings, internal reporting or your own personal method of data tracking to measure your progression. Consider creating milestones and noting when you reach each one within the action plan. Many companies choose to monitor their progress by preparing reports and presenting changes during meetings.

Related: How to Write a Development Plan (With Example)

Action plan template

You can save time by using a template to create your action plan. Here is an effective template for a wide range of goal-setting situations:

Problem: [State the problem you're attempting to solve with the action plan.]

Goal: [State the goal you wish to achieve with the action plan.]

Action plan

  • Actions (steps you plan to take to achieve your goals)

  • Persons in charge (staff members who handle each step)

  • Timeline (deadline for each step)

  • Resources (assets to allocate for each step)

  • Potential barriers (factors that can potentially hinder the completion of each step)

  • Outcomes (desired result for each step)

Example goal 1

Plan A

  • Action: [Describe the action]

  • Completion date: [Date]

  • Person responsible: [Name]

Plan B

  • Action: [Describe the action]

  • Completion date: [Date]

  • Person responsible: [Name]

Example goal 2

Plan A

  • Action: [Describe the action]

  • Completion date: [Date]

  • Person responsible: [Name]

Plan B

  • Action: [Describe the action]

  • Completion date: [Date]

  • Person responsible: [Name]

Evidence of Success: [Describe the metric or metrics you're using to track progress on the project.]

Tracking and Evaluation Process: [Describe how you plan to track and evaluate progress towards your goals.]

Related: Individual Development Plan Samples (With Definition and Steps)

Action plan example

The following is an example of an action plan for an apparel retailer:

Problem: Slow profit growth as a result of insufficient customer service.

Goal: Increase profits by 50% within three years

Our three-year goal

We expect our apparel retail business to increase our profitability by 40% as we follow this plan to improve customer service and increase staffing over the next three years.

  • The current state of our business is a yearly profit of $150,000, four-employee and many customer complaints.

  • In six months' time, every employee received training in customer service and profits increased by 10%.

  • The annual profit of $180,000, no job vacancies and strong customer service culture in 12 months' time.

  • Our business in three years' time aims to be in the top 20% of apparel retailers with the largest market share in Singapore.

Training

  • Action: All employees undergo customer service training.

  • Completion date: September 2022

  • Person responsible: Sales manager

Recruitment

  • Action: Identify skill sets needed from new employees and work with recruitment agencies to hire the right talent.

  • Completion date: November 2022

  • Person responsible: Sales manager

Improve customer service

  • Action: Update our website and keep it current.

  • Completion date: Starts in December 2021 and remains ongoing

  • Person responsible: IT manager

Generate more sales

Plan A

  • Action: Meet with the top 20% of customers and devise strategies to generate more sales per customer.

  • Completion date: January 2022

  • Person responsible: Customer sales manager

Plan B

  • Action: Create products and services brochure.

  • Completion date: May 2022

  • Person responsible: Marketing manager

Increase cash flow and reduce costs

  • Action: Introduce a more convenient payment plan for customers.

  • Completion date: January 2022

  • Person responsible: Finance manager

Expand customer base

Plan A

  • Action: Look for regional selling events and participate in relevant ones.

  • Completion date: June 2022

  • Person responsible: Sales manager

Plan B

  • Action: Review our competitors' offers and target shortcomings in their offers.

  • Completion date: October 2022

  • Person responsible: Sales manager

Evidence of success: Annual profit of $225,000

Tracking and evaluation process: Assessing profitability, staff size and the number of customer complaints.

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