Expert Panel

Focus on these things to succeed in Project Management

Learn How Action Oriented Team Management Can Drive Timely Results.


{#/pub/images/ActionItemTemplate.jpg}Transform your team culture with one simple tool.

Do your team or project meetings sound something like this… “Oh, was I supposed to do that?  I thought someone else had that responsibility.  Was that due already?”  When you ask someone for an update on a task that was issued to him or her during the group’s previous meeting, how do you respond to excuses?  It is frustrating for you and for those who are getting their tasks done.  So how can you ensure your team does not find itself behind schedule or delayed from reaching success?  Willpower is not the answer; action item tools should be what drive results.  We have a very simple tool to help transform your team’s culture from excuses, into a proactive, action-oriented machine.  Here are nine things you can do to successfully transform your team: 



1.  Don’t be frustrated, be determined.

If the above scenario is something you face in your team, chances are you are somewhat frustrated with the lack of initiative and goal completion.  Many people find it difficult to write things down on a notepad and follow up on their own because they have never been given the tools to succeed or perhaps they have become complacent with “the norm”.  Instead of being frustrated, be determined to make a transformation in the team and commit yourself to making a change. 



2.  Use an Action Item List as a tool to drive your team.

Your action item list should include a minimum of the following:


Action item #: 

This is simply a tracking number for each action item.  It can be numerical (1,2,3…) or you can use an alphabetic designator to lump actions together (A1, EN2, OP5…)


Action Description: 

This should be as short as reasonably possible.  It needs to be action oriented and descriptive enough so that you don’t forget what you were talking about during past meetings.  It is important that you drill down and outline the task at hand and expectations.  (Example:  “Update page 5 of marketing plan to reflect new product information” as opposed to “Update marketing plan”)



This needs to be designated to a specific individual, not a team.  Someone you can look in the eye and say “John, you are responsible for updating page 5 of the marketing plan, do you have any questions?” This doesn't mean that the person designated with the responsibility is the one doing all or any of the work.  However, they are responsible for making sure it gets done within the time frame mentioned.


Date Assigned/Due Date: 

Fairly straightforward.  The key point here is not to designate a due date, instead, ask the action owner when they can commit to getting the action done.  This is part of the buy-in process.  If they give a specific date and then can’t meet their own date, they have no excuses.  Obviously, if someone comes back with two months on something that should take two weeks, don’t be afraid to trump the feedback.  Note:  The due date should never change once it is agreed upon.  Any updates to the original due date should be reflected in the status/notes section.



This is where you can provide interim updates on the status and any issues that may impact rescheduling of the action.  This is a great way to communicate updates to the team.



3.  Set the stage with each member of your team before rolling this tool out.

It is important to set yourself up for success before you start using your action item list.  Spend time on an individual basis with everyone who participates in your meetings.  Be clear that this is a new tool that you want to implement to help organize the team and drive results.  Explain that you need their buy in and support.  Train them on the tool, allow them to ask questions, and request they take ownership as a team member.



4.  Assign someone on the team to document actions for the group.

The responsibility of documenting action items should be designated to one individual only.  It can be a project coordinator, administrative position or someone else who is detail oriented and capable.  Sit down with the individual and outline your expectations for this very important role.


- Walk them through the action item list to get them familiar with the fields and how you want it to be filled out.


- Express how important this position is and explain that if an action isn't clear, or if the meeting doesn't pause enough to capture the action, they are absolutely able to, and should, stop the meeting to ask for clarification.  You should fully support them by setting the example until they are comfortable.  It might be an intimidating situation for the individual to stop a meeting, etc.… so get the team used to it by doing it yourself.


- At the conclusion of each meeting you should spend some one-on-one time with this individual coaching and mentoring them.  Reassure them and encourage them to be vocal and not afraid to interject with questions.  The most important thing is accurately capturing actions.



5.  Have an official Kick Off meeting.

By the time you have concluded steps 1-4, everyone should know about your plans to roll out the action item list.  At the beginning of the kick off meeting:

- Introduce the concept for the first time to the team as a whole. 

- Introduce the individual charged with taking actions, your expectations for group support, and what you have asked them to do.

-  Print and hand out a list of  “Meeting Expectations”:  Keep it between five to ten items:

  • Be respectful of others.
  • Prepare adequately for meetings and expect everyone to participate.
  • Silence is consensus.
  • No interruption of others.
  • Everyone will be given an opportunity to express completely and concisely.
  • Stay focused on the meeting topic/agenda.
  • Commit to finalizing actions on time, no excuses.
  • Start the meetings on time and arrive punctually.

During the meeting you should facilitate the discussion and guide the process.  Don’t hesitate to respectfully pause the meeting while you take an action item or clarify an action item.



6.     Conduct a step by step review of the meeting actions.

At the conclusion of the meeting you should have the individual charged with capturing the action items walk through each new action item.  You should ask for confirmation from the individual and the group if the action is clear enough.  If a date wasn't designated, it should be done now.  Ask the owner of the action, “When can you get this done?”    You should also go around the room and ask each individual if they have any comments/feedback or any other actions that they think were missed from the meeting.  Once you have documented new actions, walk through open actions from the previous week.  A majority of the updates probably happened during the meeting, but this is where you close out, update, or address any actions you didn't talk about.  Update each action and publish those to the team after the meeting.  (Note:  if you have the resources, it is also helpful to have someone send an email to individuals with actions due a day or two prior to the meeting as a reminder)



7.  Don’t rush, create a system.

Take the time to walk through each action item.  Be methodical about it at the beginning.  The process should take a considerable amount of time at the beginning, but as your team becomes more familiar with the process, it will become more efficient.  They will begin to appreciate the Action Item List as a reminder to them and their colleagues of what is due. 



8.  Do not pass over missed deadlines, address them during the meeting.

Confronting employees in front of their peers is something we try to avoid.  It is always best practice to pull them aside individually for corrective actions, etc.  However, in the context of missing actions that were committed to, it should be uncomfortable for the individual who isn’t getting it done.  Have the discussion during the meeting to identify reasonable impacts to getting things done outside the control of the individual… “I haven’t had time to get to it” is never acceptable.  Once someone commits to a date there should be zero question that it needs to happen.  This is a challenging point and in truth depends greatly on the type of group/team you are working with.  At the very least, a reason for the delay should be defined and a new deadline established.  After the meeting you can pull the person aside to instill your concern and explain the importance that everyone holds up his or her part of the bigger picture.



9.  Be persistent in order to properly implement your Action Item Tool.

You need to find your voice and best way to utilize this tool within your dynamic group.  Every team is a little different so do not be impatient if the process is painful for the first couple of weeks.  It will make your meetings longer initially, however, as you redefine how your team tracks actions, you will notice meetings becoming more efficient.   It isn't a switch you flip and suddenly actions are successfully implemented, it is a process.  This process usually takes a good 4 to 6 weeks to implement effectively, but the results can be terrific.


The concept of action items is pretty simple, so why do we still have meetings full of excuses?  It is because implementing a system, establishing a working process, and managing the overall effort are rarely things people are comfortable with unless they have gone through extensive project management training.  We hope these steps provide the insight you need to be successful at driving results and managing your project team. 

For more information on how to implement your Action Item List, as well as a template to get you started, please check out the link below.

Action Item List - How to Drive Your Team with One Simple Tool


I hope this perspective is helpful to you in your day-to-day life.  Test out these concepts and share your results with us.  Others can benefit from your experiences.  Good luck!


Written by Lisa Woods, President ManagingAmericans.com


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