Benchmark Business Group

Action Steps That Work

August 29, 2017

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This month we've discussed how to design the structures needed to make project management successful in small business. We've looked at defining the mindset, having a project plan, knowing where to start, and dealing with change. We want to end this month's spotlight with a focus on action. It's one thing to have a plan, but no plan is successful without action.
A common mistake for many project managers is to make action steps too big and thus they become almost like mini-projects to manage. In project management, your goal is to break the action steps into the smallest actionable pieces that you can. It's helpful if each action step requires only one person to be accountable and has one focus. This isn't always possible. For example, your project may require a meeting with several people in attendance. It then needs to be assigned to anyone that needs to be in attendance, but too often the action step would be listed as:
Action Step: Meeting to discuss marketing language for new launch page.
The problem with this is there are too many questions. Who schedules the meeting? What needs to come out of the meeting? How should that happen? It's easy to assume that the person assigned to this might know they need to schedule it or that they need to either take notes or present final language to the project manager, but what we know is that it doesn't work that well in real life. As a project manager, there will be a direct correlation between your success and your ability to create clear and concise action steps. Instead of the action step example above you might consider breaking it into:
  • Schedule a meeting with launch team to discuss marketing language for new launch page
  • Type up meeting notes and add to marketing folder for launch project
  • From meeting notes, draft first content copy for launch page
  • From meeting notes, draft first visual layout for launch page
Breaking your action steps out takes longer in the beginning, but brings a level of clarity that is missing in many projects. This allows you to:
  • Delegate without worrying if someone else knows exactly what they have to deliver. The action steps leave very little room for interpretation.  You know what action to take and what, if any, deliverable you need to create.
  • Better estimate the time needed to complete the task at hand giving you the ability to manage capacity. Using the above example, the meeting may only take one hour, but when you add in the notes and drafting first drafts, the real time and capacity will grow causing your schedule to be more chaotic than it needs to be. With smaller steps, you should be able to better estimate how much time is needed and if that's in line with your project plan.
  • Ensure that you know where the hang-ups are.   Using the above example, if the drafts were expected from the meeting, but not clearly listed, then you might assume they were in progress or ready to go once the meeting was marked completed. With smaller action steps, you know exactly what is holding the project up and who you need to talk to about moving it forward.
In the end, project management is all about having the right structures and training on those structures in your business. If your projects are not moving forward then it's time to assess your project management structures.

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