Foundations for Excellence

What Is an Action Plan?

Nuts and Bolts IconAn action plan is a roadmap that can help you accomplish your program goals and objectives. Just as there are different ways to get to a destination if you are taking a trip, there are different routes a program can take to reach goals, meet objectives, and achieve outcomes.

Tips for Developing Action Plans

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Action Plans are the roadmaps a program uses to accomplish goals and achieve objectives.

Include the three vital elements. Action plans generally include "what," "who," and "when." They outline the action steps (the "what") your program will take to achieve your goals and objectives, the person(s) responsible (the "who"), and the projected completion dates (the "when"). Most importantly, action plans highlight the "why" of a program goal. Research encourages us to lift up "why" in planning and inspire others to work in tandem to operationalize plans and accomplish goals. In Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek reminds us that knowing the why of an activity fosters a greater sense of purpose and initiative in those doing the work.6

Add other ingredients. Additional ingredients might include such things as how you will measure progress, your evidence or data source, markers for quarterly status updates, financial supports, and resources needed.

Start each action with a verb. This will remind you that action steps are things to do.

Consider which actions are sequential and which are not. Some actions must be taken in chronological order because a specific action must be completed before the next can occur. See the examples in Topic 4. Other actions may happen simultaneously. Some actions may occur repeatedly or be ongoing. Order sequential actions with their related dates for completion. Indicate in the date column if actions are repeated or ongoing.

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Action plans are living documents, so “Plan, Do, Review” could be thought of as “Plan, Do, Review, and Revise as Necessary.”

Use "Plan, Do, Review." Many people are familiar with "Plan, Do, Review." This concept is equally useful for an action plan. Creating an action plan is a big project. It’s tempting to clap your hands when you complete the plan and proudly put it on a shelf as a job well done. But an action plan should be a living document that is reviewed and updated as part of your program’s ongoing monitoring and continuous improvement process. It provides a clear and agreed-upon road-map for all to follow. Reviewing your plan regularly offers opportunities to identify bright spots, celebrate small and large accomplishments along the way, and consider how your successes can inform your efforts in other areas of your program. It is also an opportunity to refine and adjust your strategies if you find they are not working, which creates the opportunity for a more robust and informed annual self-assessment.

Keep it current. The best-laid plans do change as things go along. Make course corrections by adding additional action steps (or getting rid of ones that turn out to be unnecessary) and by changing timelines as needed. If you were not able to accomplish something you planned to do in January but it is now scheduled to take place in February, make sure your updated plan reflects this change so that stakeholders are informed. Don’t forget to share your progress and updates with the governing board/Tribal Council and Policy Council members.

Question Mark IconHow do these criteria for action plans make you view your program’s action plans differently?

By understanding goals, objectives, outcomes, progress, and action plans, you can more effectively carry out your five-year plan. Thinking about the goals from a big-picture perspective allows you to anticipate expected challenges, and this, in turn, enables you to better forecast the expected outcomes. As your program engages in the five-year project period, your ability to craft broad program goals, measurable objectives, and expected outcomes becomes a critical part of understanding the positive difference your program makes for children, families, and the community.

Locator Pin for the end of the topic

Now that you have identified the importance of program goals, objectives, outcomes, and action plans, Topic 2 will help you distinguish between plans and planning and their significance in relation to strategic planning.

6. Sinek, S. (2013). Start with why: how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. London: Portfolio/Penguin.