HR Management

Anatomy of an Action Item

In previous posts, we’ve discussed the importance of meeting minutes as well as the elements that should be included in meeting minutes. One item, in particular, we noted as important is action items. There are many ways to document action items, but we recommend using a consistent structure in a table format to make sure none of the key parts are missed.

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Here, at a minimum, are some items that should be included.

Description

Obviously, you need to describe what the action item is. The description should be specific and detailed enough to make clear what is required. Treat it as though you’ll only get exactly what you’re asking for, because people will eventually forget what was “understood” if it isn’t sufficiently documented.

Owner

Again, this seems obvious, but be careful with this one. If possible, always avoid having more than one owner. If multiple people own an action item, it often ends up with nobody owning it, because everyone assumes someone else is doing the work.

It’s OK if multiple people need to help with the actual work, but the owner is the one whose responsibility it is to make sure the task gets done, not necessarily the person who will perform the work.

In addition, make sure that the task owner is someone who has a natural tie to the task. This not only helps to ensure efficiency, but it also avoids any potential for team members to “step on others’ toes” if they’re assigned a task that is under someone else’s area of authority.

Due Date

Set a reasonable due date for your action items. You need to give the owner enough time to get the task completed while also getting the task done in a reasonable amount of time.

Assuming the owner is in the meeting where the action item is assigned, you need to get his or her input on what is a feasible due date. Make sure to get the input from the one who will actually be doing the work.

Status

These next two items are more relevant for ongoing meetings related to longer-term projects. If an action item isn’t likely to be completed by the next meeting, having a status indication is helpful so that team members can monitor progress.

For example, typical statuses could be “pending” (nothing has been done yet), “active” (work has started but is not completed) or “completed” (obvious).

Comments/Notes/Updates

Notes and comments can be useful, for example, if a due date gets pushed or a status is changed. There’s no need to go into extensive detail here, but including just a few notes to help clarify what’s going on for someone who might look at this document without in-depth knowledge of the project, can be very helpful.

Action items are great for documenting who needs to do what and by when; having a consistent structure can go a long way to boosting the effectiveness of individuals and the overall team. Ensuring the items listed above are included in your standard action item format can help prevent balls from being dropped.