15 minutesBy Canva Team

Creating an action plan: How-tos, templates, and tips

Learn about action plans, their components, and how to use them for smooth task execution. Check out best practices and examples to make an action plan that keeps the gears in motion.
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What is an action plan?

Goals are great, but without a plan to reach them, they'll remain what they are: just goals written on a piece of paper. For teams, the surest way to achieve a goal is to complete all the tasks involved, and the best way to ensure that is through an action plan.

An action plan is a document that compiles the steps and tasks needed to achieve a goal or complete a project. It’s often part of strategic planning or project management. Anyone — from individuals to project managers to institutions — will benefit from using an action plan.

An example of an Action Plan doc

An action plan lists every task needed to reach a goal.

Action plans are often confused with to-do lists, plans, and strategies. After all, they have similar components. However, an action plan serves a different purpose and contains additional items not present in the other three. Here’s an overview of how these documents differ from an action plan:

  • To-do lists: Compared to an action plan, a to-do list is used for general purposes. The tasks in a to-do list can be infinite and aren’t limited to a single goal or project. Think of daily errand checklists or the weekly to-dos of a student.
  • Project plans: Although they’re both plans, project plans are more complex, multi-page documents. They aren’t linear; instead, they branch out to cover more ground, containing sections like the project scope or work breakdown structure. Project plans lend themselves best to long-term projects with more moving parts.
  • Strategies: Before an individual or team creates an action plan, they most likely produce a strategy first. Unlike an action plan, a strategy isn’t time-bound and doesn’t have action steps the team needs to do. It’s more of a high-level guiding principle.

What is the purpose of an action plan?

The main purpose of an action plan is to ensure you’re on top of your project’s most important tasks. It’s where you check the resources you have and the steps you must complete. To add, it helps with decision-making. Let’s break down the reasons your team will benefit from an action plan:

Deliverables and timeline in an Action Plan doc

An action plan helps you stay on top of your team’s deliverables.

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Ensures task completion

If tasks are listed, assigned, and time-bound, there’s a higher chance they will be completed. It reduces the risk of people overlooking their responsibilities. The action plan document fosters accountability. It also motivates a goal-driven team, who’d like to know how close they are to achieving the goal.

Makes the goal achievable

Action plans transform abstract goals into concrete, actionable items. Goals become attainable. With this visibility, team members discover ways to maximize resources. Aside from that, an action plan prepares team members for possible and preventable challenges, allowing for flexibility and easier adjustment.

Provides clarification and direction

A plan of action provides direction and structure. As team members accomplish individual tasks, they have a clear document to follow and refer to. The action plan guides them to the next step, clarifies the objective, and provides important details like deadlines and dependencies. Overall, an action plan makes the journey toward completion smoother.

Simple and easy to use

An action plan is a straightforward document that keeps an entire team on the same page, even if they’re assigned to different tasks or sub-teams.

Making an action plan is easy, too. It’s as simple as using a Canva Docs action plan template and filling it out with your project details.

Who uses an action plan?

The short and exciting answer is everyone. Anyone who has a goal to achieve or a project to complete can make an action plan. It’s flexible, so people can use it in business strategy, project planning, and small, personal dreams.

For example, businesses use action plans to increase sales or prepare workers for emergencies. Educational institutions can use it to improve current programs and increase enrollment rates. Small teams and large organizations can all develop action plans to execute their marketing campaigns.

On a smaller scale, you can create an action plan to meet your fitness goals, complete your travel bucket list, or achieve your dream of moving to another city.

Action plan examples

Because it’s flexible, an action plan takes various formats. Once you get your hands on a blank action plan template, you have to customize it to your needs and goals. To show you how you can write an action plan, here are two brief action plan samples:

Corrective action plan

A corrective action plan aims to resolve issues. It lays out a plan of action to correct errors that may negatively affect the organization. Corrective action plans are primarily used in a professional setting.

  • Problem: Work processes are outdated.
  • Action steps: Review the standard operating procedure manual, make changes according to the department discussion, and approve them.
  • Action items: Conduct meetings with department heads, have department heads meet with their members, and finalize the updated manual edition with heads.
  • Timeline: The whole process must be accomplished within three months (but each task would have its timeline).
  • Resources: Meeting rooms and copies of the current SOP manual.
  • People in charge: Department heads.
  • Report: Busy schedules prove to be an issue. Currently requesting time and adjusting schedules to finalize a date and time for the first meeting.
An example of an Action Plan timeline

This sample action plan plots the tasks across a timeline.

Sales action plan

As its name implies, the goal of the sales action plan is to increase sales and hit targets.

  • Objective: Increase quarterly sales of one of our less popular products by X%.
  • Action steps: Establish a marketing strategy and improve the stalls that sell the product.
  • Action items: Collaborate with the marketing team on a marketing strategy and if needed, procure tools and hire team members to help with execution. Schedule sales training programs for people who manage the stalls and improve displays.
  • Timeline: Strategy execution, recruitment, training, and display improvements should be done within X weeks (but each task would have its timeline).
  • Resources: Budget, permits, social media accounts, and tools for creating content and scheduling posts on social media.
  • People in charge: Department heads and human resources.
  • Report: Hiring is taking longer than expected. One stall in a busy mall has been spruced up, and a simple social media campaign has been launched.

Aside from these two, there are other types of action plans you can use:

Edit or update your action plan doc

An example of a sales action plan that shows goals, strategies, and KPIs.

Business action plan

Business action plans help expand or improve a business. Founders, managers, and project managers are most likely to create one. However, any member can personalize a business action plan template and use it for a small business initiative.

The main purpose of a business action plan is to turn entrepreneurial visions into concrete actions. Examples of lofty business goals that would benefit from an action plan are improving a business process and increasing employee retention rates.

Marketing action plans

Compared to a business action plan, a marketing action plan is more specific. It focuses solely on identifying steps and resources to execute a marketing strategy or campaign. A marketing action plan spans the depth and breadth of marketing — online and offline, content creation, inbound and outbound campaigns, you name it, there’s a marketing action plan for it.

A marketing department would benefit from having a marketing action plan template on hand. It saves time, especially if you launch several campaigns at once.

Strategic action plans

If a team has a strategy they want to execute (and it’s not related to marketing), they’re encouraged to create a strategic action plan. Compared to a marketing action plan, this is more flexible and can be used by any department or team in a company.

Any professional in charge of strategies like sports coaches or teachers can also use a strategic action plan. This type of action plan can also be presented to investors or stakeholders for credibility.

Personal action plans

The most customized and flexible kind of action plan is the personal action plan. It’s used by anyone for any goal in any aspect of their life. A personal action plan helps you improve professionally, physically, and more.

Compared to the other types of action plans, a personal action plan allows the creator to be more creative. If you want to add graphics, photos, and inspirational quotes to your plan of action document, you’re free to do so.

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An example of a Goal Action Plan doc

You can customize a personal action plan like this one according to your style and goals.

Affirmative action plans

In the US, contractors and subcontractors who meet certain criteria are required to have an Affirmative Action Plan, a special kind of action plan that promotes equal employment opportunities to everyone regardless of race, gender, religion, age, disability, veteran status, and more. According to the U.S. Department of Labor site, affirmative actions(opens in a new tab or window) may include positive steps like inclusive training programs and outreach efforts.

Affirmative Action Program sample
To get an idea of what an affirmative action plan looks like, explore examples of Affirmative Action Programs provided by the U.S. Department of Labor.

What to include in an action plan?

Most action plans take the format of a table to align the task to the assignee and deadline. However, you’re free to use a format that fits your action steps. As long as you have the following components, the format shouldn’t matter. You can easily create a clear action plan.

Include resources and team members in your action plan

An action plan, like this example, should have objectives, steps, resources, and people in charge.

The objectives describe the desired result and serve as the guide for the entire plan of action. The team keeps the objectives in mind while preparing and executing the action steps.

The action plan steps answer the question, “What must we do to accomplish our objectives?” They’re usually targets or milestones, which team members can refer to when they work out the resources, timelines, and people in charge.

The high-level action steps are broken down into action items. Action items are the detailed, specific tasks that a team or person must accomplish to complete a step.

An action plan timeline is a schedule of milestones and deadlines. The timeline also serves as a reference when tracking progress.

Action plan resources are the things needed to execute the plan. These include funds, time, and tools. It’s recommended that teams audit their resources before planning to manage expectations.

The people in charge section identifies who's responsible for each action step or item. It makes it easier to determine who to approach about a task.

An action plan matrix is a table that organizes the steps, items, resources, and assignees. A matrix provides clarity and helps the team identify possible challenges before the execution.

Once the action plan is put into motion, the team creates a report to keep track of progress. This report includes the steps started, the tasks finished, the resources used, and more. The report also notes changes or adjustments applied to the project.

How to write an action plan?

Ready to do some action planning for your project? Here’s the step-by-step process of creating a solid document. You’ll need your teammates as you plan, prioritize, and finalize the items. You might also need brainstorming sessions to discuss roles, responsibilities, and resources.

How to write an action plan

Before you begin, clearly define the goal or objective. This step is crucial since it will be the basis of decisions and resource allocation. It will also provide direction, be a source of motivation, and help select the right type of action plan.

Unsure what the goal or objective should be? Hold a brainstorm with your team and think of what you want to accomplish. This may be a key performance indicator you wish to hit.

Set SMART Goals
Make sure your goal or objectives are SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

After you’ve finalized your objective, list down action steps and itemize the specific tasks needed to complete them. All these tasks must contribute to the objective. Refrain from adding unrelated or unnecessary activities. Once you’ve identified the tasks, prioritize them according to urgency or dependencies. This way, it will be easier to plot the timeline.

If you find it difficult to prioritize, use prioritization techniques. Some approaches are the Eisenhower matrix, MoSCoW prioritization method, and Pareto chart. Browse the Canva gallery for templates, or create one from scratch for free.

Once you’ve agreed on the priority of steps and items, plan your resources. Check the resources needed against what you currently have. Note if there’s a surplus of resources, these could be reallocated accordingly.

Should multiple teams need a resource in short supply, let the order of priority decide where it goes. In case you need to visualize resource availability, Canva has graphs, diagrams, and chart templates you can use.

A timeframe provides a realistic estimate of the time it takes to accomplish a task. It keeps everyone aligned on deadlines and milestones. When plotting the dates, consider factors like resource availability, task complexity, and people’s time off.

In every project, the most important deadline is the final one. So a good technique for creating timelines is to work in reverse. It’s also recommended to be flexible, in case you need to make changes or face unexpected delays.

Once you have everything finalized — the steps, resources, and timeline — compile all this information in a single document. And the easiest way to do this is to put them on a pre-made action plan template. Browse our gallery for free and customizable Canva Docs templates for action plans so you can save time and effort. But if you want to make one from scratch, you can do so, too.

Customize your action plan document by changing the fonts, colors, and formatting. Add photos, illustrations, tables, graphs, and even website links. Then, easily share the doc with your teammates.

Just because you’ve created an action plan doesn’t mean you’ll stop there. Before execution, assess the plan you’ve made. Has everything been clarified and finalized? Does the team understand the entire plan of action? At what step should the team anticipate changes or challenges?

During implementation, monitoring and evaluating progress is just as crucial. Remember to make an action plan report regularly to avoid the snowball effect of problems. Through regular reports, the action plan can be immediately improved.

Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate milestones. Every small win counts.

Get inspired with action plan templates

Take your action plan to the next level with customizable, professionally designed templates. Collaborate and fill out your document template on any device in real time. Design unique action plans for any purpose — marketing, sales, even New Year’s resolutions — using different colors, styles, or themes.

All you need in an action plan maker

Whether you’re preparing for an emergency, ramping up your sales, or bringing a project to completion, lay down your plans on Canva. With Canva Docs’ easy-to-use tools and features, your team can collaborate to complete your projects and accomplish your goal.

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Action plan best practices

Action plans are no doubt simple and easy to create. With a template, project information, a supportive team, and a few clicks, you can create one in minutes. However, to ensure that your action plan is effective, here are best practices to remember.

Involve the team

Active participation of team members means there are more perspectives and insights when creating an action plan. As a team, you can discuss the allocation of resources properly and agree on a realistic timeline. In addition, involving the team fuels motivation, reduces miscommunication, and keeps everyone on the same page.

Use a single template or task management software

A fragmented and unorganized action plan could lead to many problems like delays and confusion, to name a few. So when writing an action plan, use a single template or task management software. For example, place all sections, tables, photos, and information in a single action plan document template on Canva. This way, it’s easy for your teammates to check tasks, leave comments, and note the adjustments. You can also link to relevant websites on your Canva doc.

Canva Teams
Share your action plan with your team by saving it in your team folder in Canva. With Canva Teams, you can access all the resources you need to organize and execute your plan.
Add a comment to your action plan doc

You can tag teammates and assign tasks on Canva Docs, enabling collaboration on your action plan.

Pay attention to details during the execution

Don’t let your action plan fall to the wayside when you start the execution phase. Remember to tick off finished tasks, leave notes, and monitor progress. To ensure you follow the plan, set alert notifications or schedule updates with your team. Make full use of your action plan to achieve your goal.

Keep it simple

It’s tempting to use the action plan for extremely complicated or long-term projects. However, action plans are better suited to short-term goals or simpler business projects. You can definitely customize an action plan and list down as many tasks as needed but confirm first if there are other tools that will serve your project better.

Action Plan FAQs

A good action plan is one that suits the objective. For example, if you aim to solve an issue, develop a corrective action plan. If you want to prepare for unprecedented events, write an emergency action plan. In addition, a good action plan:

  • Sets an achievable timeline
  • Identifies who's responsible for each task
  • Contains details about each step and item
  • Outlines the resources needed for the steps

Follow our how-to guide and check out our tips and best practices, so you’re all set to write an awesome action plan.

Successfully implementing an action plan requires teamwork, communication, accountability, and flexibility. Teams have various approaches to project execution, but as long as they have these traits, they’re more likely to succeed. Teamwork and accountability compel teams to finish each item, while communication makes sure all tasks run smoothly. If a team is flexible, they can readily adjust timelines and resource allocation. Feedback is great, too, as it offers the opportunity to improve.

An emergency action plan is a type of action plan that contains steps to respond appropriately to different kinds of emergencies. It benefits the workplace for two main reasons. One, it ensures that during crises, everyone knows what to do and understands the protocols they need to follow. Two, it makes team members feel safe and secure.

Yes, Canva Docs is free to use, which means you can create visual and beautifully formatted action plans for free. There are, however, additional features that you can access with a paid subscription.

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