Ten tricks to get things done

Many action plans share the same problems, they expand with additional todos but little gets done. Here are 10 tricks to change the wish list into real action plan that delivers.

1. accept only important and urgent actions

Setup a basic rule to filter out proposed actions or suggestions. A severe one would be for instance “anything that is not urgent nor important isn’t worth to be put on this type of action plan”. Give it some thinking. Unimportant and no urgent items will only clog the board.

If unimportant and no urgent ideas or suggestions are worth giving a later consideration, prepare a separate list.

2. accept only actions people can carry out themselves

As a manager, accept only actions people can carry out themselves. This means they have authority to get them done or the skills and resources – including time – to carry out the actions. If they haven’t but actions are necessary nevertheless, start a different action plan under the responsibility of someone having authority. These actions will have to be carried out by someone else, like maintenance  or support team, a subcontractor, etc.

3. limit the capacity of action plan

In order to prevent team members writing long wish lists, limit the capacity of the action plan. 3, 5 or maximum 10 lines is best.  This doesn’t mean the management refuses to hear problems or improvement suggestions, but as the plan capacity is limited, it is obvious that only meaningful actions will find their way onto the plan and actions need to be carried out quickly in order to free space for new ones.

4. every action has someone accountable for

Every action must have someone who takes ownership and accountability. This does not mean this person has to do it him/herself, but make sure action is taken by someone and objectives will be met on due date.
Do not accept orphans, that is actions without owners. There is a saying: “giving to all is giving to nobody”, in other terms if you wait for someone to spontaneously pick up the action you may wait a long time.

5. place the action plan in full sight of everybody

With action plan in full sight of everybody, Anybody can monitor the progress, hence the pride of actions’ owners and accountables will get some extra motivation. People that depend or suffer from a situation that needs solution or improvement may be demanding and challenge the ones in charge.

6. review plan every day

Such plans are suitable for Management in Short Interval, ideally everyday. Besides, urgent and important things require close-loop management. Daily reviews encourage real action as constant attention is kept. People usually want to succeed in their undertakings and constant attention gives extra motivation.

7. accept solutions not excuses

When actions get delayed or face difficulties, people in charge should propose alternate solutions or due dates, not excuses.

Make this rule clear from the beginning and stick to it firmly.

8. if plan is full, a new action needs an older one to be dumped

Another important rule is to keep the plan’s limitation. If there is no place left but a new action should be taken into account, there are only 2 options:

  1. wait until one action is completed and leaves the plan
  2. remove one action which wasn’t completed so far. Maybe it was not that urgent and important after all?

9. planned actions are perishable: out after ten days!

Linked to the previous trick, consider actions as something perishable. If one action could not be completed within 10 days (2 working weeks), it wasn’t probably urgent nor important. Dump it and free space for a new one. This rule will add some pressure to the group and help keep momentum.

10. escalate

The last trick is to escalate actions judged important and urgent but couldn’t be accomplished within the 10 days. Find sponsorship with somebody that has authority to allocate additional skills or resources. Let this option remain an exception, otherwise it would be too easy to push things to others.


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