Action Item List Formats

Quick Summary
Example formats for keeping track of action items that need to be accomplished during a project.

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MS Word, 77kb

What this is

Example formats for keeping track of action items that need to be accomplished during a project. Although the concept and typical formats are simple, different teams do end up crafting Action Item List variations that suit how they want to use such lists for project tracking and communication. So we included several formats we've seen: two at a detailed level for tracking the actions that arise each week, and one example of how organizational-type items might initially be documented in a major meeting and communicated to the group.

Why it's useful

What gets measured (or tracked) gets done. And "the devil is in the details." There are many project details that don't warrant a task line in the schedule. On the other hand, they have to get done, and often by a certain time in order to not hold up related project activities or decisions. Action Item lists are a commonly used mechanism to record and track such details to keep them from falling through the cracks. Beyond project-specific action item lists, organizations can keep track of important process improvement, "strategy, or other actions they've assigned to address important work and issues.

How to use it

Start a detailed Action Item List as shown in Formats 1 and 2 early in a project-typically at the beginning of the Initiation phase, when multiple people are forming the new project team and getting busy on the work of the project. In fact, the Action Item List is key in the Initiation phase, because when that phase starts a schedule for tracking tasks won't exist yet.

  1. Determine the format and program you want to use. The list can be implemented in a spreadsheet, a word-processing document, or a database. See the examples in this file for different formats and create your own variation if desired.

  2. Assign responsibility for maintaining the list. This usually falls to the Project Manager, or a designated "project coordinator."

  3. Record new actions in each team meeting.

  4. Determine how you'll track action item status. Options include:

    • Get status in the regular team meeting. Have people report status on those due by today's date, or due within the next week. CAUTION: although this approach is useful for holding people accountable to their due dates (no one really likes to have to say they're late in front of a bunch of people), it can also slow team meetings down. If you use it, insist on very brief status reporting: yes-done, no-open; a statement on plan for completing it; and for upcoming items simply whether it's on track or in trouble, and who the owner needs to work with to get it out of trouble.

    • Collect status offline before the team meeting. For example, set a norm that team members will report status on any actions they own that are due in the next 2 weeks, a day before the team meeting. The Project Manager or coordinator then updates the Action Item List with that info and brings it to the team meeting for reference. The Project Manager also examines the status before the meeting and flags any items that should get highlighted to the team, or requiring discussion by the team in the meeting, so that the meeting stays efficient by ONLY discussing those that truly need group attention/discussion.

  5. Post the latest Action Item List where all team members can access it, to see status of items not covered in the meeting and always be able to see what items they have been assigned.

  6. Strive to keep your "completion metric" (the percent of actions completed on time during each time period) at 80% or above. As a rule of thumb, when completion rates start to fall, dates are being assigned too aggressively; people aren't taking the due dates seriously; or some combination of the two. Make sure the tool is used correctly!

Download this template
MS Word, 77kb

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This one-page worksheet, designed by Kimberly Wiefling of Wiefling Consulting, helps your team define the project finish line in clear, measurable terms.

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