How to develop an action plan.
by Anton van den Berg
Planning is a skill we need for every aspect of both our working and personal lives. Whether you are doing a business plan, or planning to implement a project, or planning to achieve a personal goal, you need to create an action plan. But what is a action plan? And what are the different elements of a plan of action?
What is an action plan?
A plan is typically any diagram or list of steps with timing and resources, used to achieve an objective. It is commonly understood as a temporal set of intended actions through which one expects to achieve a goal. –Wikipedia
A plan consists of :
- Goal, objective or outcome (list of deliverables)
- List of steps or actions (May include logic like dependency and predecessors)
- Time (Labour, elapsed time and duration)
- Resources (human, capital, time and objects)
- Value measurement (Quality statement and benefits)
Elements of an action plan
Here are the 4 most important elements of an action plan.
1. Understand the objective or scope.
1.1 Know what you want.
Know exactly what you want to achieve.
Know exactly what you want to achieve. Include the stuff that you don’t know but need to know. Make sure that you can build what you don't know yet into the final plan. Most importantly – write this stuff down to allow you to come back and check against the original goal.
1.2 Find out how others have dealt with similar problems
Learn from others' experience.
Look around and try and figure out what other people with similar problems have done. Get more than one possibility and be genuine in evaluating the level of success each of these possibilities offered where they were applied. Most importantly – don’t discard anything now, you don’t know what the probability of success in your situation is.
1.3 Test possible solutions
Apply (theoretically) the possible solutions in your situation. Consider the impact, cost, duration and try and estimate how complex it would be make each solution work. Most importantly – estimate what the realistic chances to be successful with each of these options are.
1.4 Choose the best possible solution.
It should become clear now that some of the solutions will work better than others for you in this situation. Select the one with the best chance of actually working. Most importantly – walk away from the discarded options and channel all your energy into making sure that the option you have selected will work.
2. Develop your action plan. Work backwards
Amazing as this may sound, we have the capacity to build stuff in our minds and we can then work “backwards in time” to get a clear road-map or path to reach a goal.
2.1 Visualize the goal achieved.
Develop a clear picture of the end destination.
Visualize the goal as if it has already been achieved. Make this picture as clear as you can. Take it to extremes like experiencing the emotions of achieving this objective; smell it, hear it, see the sun glinting…
Most importantly – visualize the completed or finished result.
2.2 Be clear about where you are now.
Get a clear picture of your point of departure - where you are now.
Get a realistic understanding of where you are now. Get honest, don’t soft-soap or be gentle. Most importantly – understand that this is your point of departure. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Many have achieved great things from starting in humility with nothing and little to no opportunities. You have already seen your future…
2.3 Choose the best route.
Find the shortest route to achieving the goal. I cannot stress this enough… Most importantly – the shortest route requiring the least amount of resources and time almost always returns the best results. Things like motivation, endurance and determination become significant issues when you travel the scenic route…
2.4 Identify the big moments.
Identify the big moments. On this road that you are about to travel, you should find places where you can “stop and recuperate”. It is almost exactly the same as driving a long distance. You need moments to just stop and reflect. Most importantly – choose the rest spots looking back from the goal to the starting point. This perspective will allow you to see things as if they have already occurred and your perception of these rest-spots will be result and not problem orientated.
2.5 Fill in the gaps.
Now that you know what the main moments are; fill in the details from where you are now to the first big moment. It is almost impossible not to start filling in the blanks between the next moments. Most importantly – just get enough detail down between the next moments to stop wondering about them. Focus on getting the detail of reaching the next moment. Understand that you will have to repeat this step every time you reach one of the big moments.
3. Balance time and resources against value
Now for the big surprise…. Time, resources and value are interrelated and interdependent. So if you want to travel from point A to point B very fast, you will need a fast car, which cost lots of money. Should you want to get there in style, well those cars are expensive too. If you are the champagne, caviar and first class jet set, I hope that you understand we are talking big money now. You may elect to go the dirt cheap road and simply arrive at point B. But you would have to pace yourself here - both ways. Most importantly – choose the car well. Too expensive and you don’t have enough money to make it to the end. Too cheap and the car may not see the end.
Look at the items listed in your action plan section and attach time, money and resources to each one.
4. The end game of the action plan.
If you have written down all the stuff that you have decided, elected and seen, you will now be in possession of something that will answer these questions:
Congratulations – You are now the proud owner of a well designed, well thought through plan that presents a very high probability of success. You will now be able to communicate clearly to yourself and others what you are doing and why; know when to do what as well as constantly know what will happen next.
You have planned to become a winner.
Anton van den Berg is a professional program and project management practitioner with several years of management experience on various levels and in different capacities in a range of industries and disciplines.
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