An action item is ad-hoc work that requires follow-up execution. By their nature, action items can't be planned for in advance. Examples of action items include forwarding specific information to someone, arranging a meeting, and providing a quick estimate on a piece of work.
There are two common approaches used to manage action items. For all non-trivial action items, the best approach is to add the items as activities in the project workplan. You assign a resource and an end date and then manage the activity and track it as you would any normal activity. This is the better approach to follow because it keeps the work activities in one place and allows the project manager to see the schedule impact of assigning action items to team members. If team members are assigned action items that take more than a couple hours of effort, it can have a negative impact on their previously assigned work.
Another popular approach is to track and manage action items on a separate Action Item Log. A separate Action Item Log only makes sense if the work activities entail one or two hours of effort. If the effort is much more than that, you want to place the action item in the workplan. Action items are normally time sensitive. If an action item has not been completed in a reasonable timeframe, it should be closed and eliminated.
Action items are sometimes erroneously mixed in with issues. An action item should not be confused with an issue. An issue is a problem that will have a detrimental impact on the project if left unresolved. An action item is simply some follow-up work that needs to be performed.
If you add action items into the workplan, you'll track them in the same way you manage any workplan activity. If you document smaller action items in an Action Item Log, you can use the following process to manage them.
- The project manager enters the action item in the Action Item Log. This records its existence to ensure that it receives attention and is carried out.
- The project manager assigns the action item to a team member who assumes responsibility for the action item and takes the necessary steps to complete it. The project manager may be assigned action items as well.
- A date for the completion of each action item should be entered in the log, along with an estimate of the amount of effort required.
- If completing an action item involves more work than anticipated, it should be brought to the attention of the project manager so that it can be added to the workplan instead.
- The Action Item Log should be reviewed weekly to ensure that action items have been completed successfully. Since items in the Action Item Log take only one or two hours, you should plan on completing them fairly quickly.
- The project manager makes sure that action items are closed in a timely manner.
Action items may be small, but they should still be tracked and completed. If you're not going to manage action items to ensure they are successfully completed, there is no use in documenting and tracking them at all.