Five Things You Need to Know About Action Items
An action item is an ad-hoc work activity that requires follow-up execution. By their nature, action items normally cannot be planned for in advance. They arise on an as-needed basis during meetings or as a by-product of working on something else. There is no Knowledge Area in the PMBOK® Guide for managing action items, but they can be important to the smooth running of the project. They are an important aspects of time management.
- An action item is assigned because there is not enough knowledge, expertise or time to resolve the item at the time it originally surfaced.
- Action items need to be assigned, worked on later and completed. (If they are not going to be completed, they should not be called action items. Instead, simply note that the item will not be completed.) Examples of action items include forwarding specific information to someone, arranging a meeting and providing a quick estimate on a piece of work.
- Sometimes an action item is established to investigate an area where there may be a potential problem. Because of this, action items are sometimes called “issues”. However, this is not right. An issue is a problem which will have a detrimental impact on the project if left unresolved. Issues are not the same as action items.
- Trivial action items may be tracked and managed with a standalone Action Item Log
. If the action item came from a meeting, you can create a section in your meeting minutes for action items. These trivial action items are usually less than two hours of effort and are scheduled to be completed by the next meeting. If you use this technique you can start each meeting with a review of the prior action items to validate that they are completed and then cross them off the list.
- If the action item is non-trivial (greater than two effort hours) you should add them as activities in the project schedule. A resource and end-date are assigned as well, and the activity is then managed and tracked as any normal schedule activity. This is the better approach to follow, because it keeps the work activities in one place and allows the project manager to enforce the discipline of knowing ‘if it’s not on the schedule, it will not be worked on’. This approach also allows the project manager to see the impact of the action items on the schedule. For instance, you may have a small action item that is 4 hours of work. If you assign this action item to a person on the critical path, you will see the resulting delay to your project. This may result in you assigning the action item to someone else instead.
In many cases, action items are trivial in nature, but in other cases they can require substantial work to complete. Track non-trivial action items in your schedule. Leave the true trivial action items on the Action Item Log. Projects tend to generate lots of them and you need some method to track and close them to ensure the project work continues to run smoothly.