Action Items: How to Write Them and Use Them

Published on
August 14, 2023

If you’ve ever come to the end of a meeting still looking for clarity about next steps, you're certainly not alone. Even the best teams can sometimes struggle with defining a path forward. One good solution to this ambiguity is action items. In this article we’ll walk you through the best practices for making action items part of your workflow, and show you why action items can be a game changer in project management.

Basically, if you've ever left a room (or a Zoom) wondering, "So... what's next?" you're in the right place. 

If you’re looking for a seamless way to start using action items on your team, you may want to add Spinach to your meetings. Action items are a built-in feature of Spinach, along with other powerful tools like instant meeting summaries, and ticket suggestions. Having an AI Scrum master on the team means the action items are created automatically, so you can spend less time documenting your meeting, and more time driving results.

What is an action item?

An action item is a clearly defined task that needs to be completed after a discussion or meeting. Think of it as the 'next step' derived from your team talks. 

It's not just a vague statement like "We should improve the UX." Instead, it's concrete, like "John will work with the design team to enhance the login page UX by next Tuesday." 

What sets action items apart from your general to-do list items is their specificity and direct tie to team collaboration and discussions. They're born out of team synergy and are crucial for keeping projects on track. 

Add Spinach to your meetings for instant summaries (including action items with owners listed). You'll also get a personalized To Do list in Slack.

What is an action item list?

The next step to leveraging your team’s action items is creating a digital space where all these action items are collectively stored. That's your action item list. It's not just any action plan; it's a dynamic roster that captures who's responsible for what and by when. 

This list is an absolute game-changer for IT teams and project management. Amidst the constant buzz and hum of tasks, deliverables, and sprint goals, an action items template turned into a customized list offers a clear, organized view of immediate next steps. 

With one glance, you get the pulse of the team's direction and what's pending. And clarity like that is worth its weight in gold (or code, in the tech world 😉).

Benefits of using action items

Now that we’ve covered what action items are, let's dive into the tactical benefits they bring to the table. Here are a few of the specific advantages of adding action items to your team workflow.

Increased accountability

With action items, you're not just tossing ideas into the void and hoping they stick. You're attaching names, dates, and details. 

When Sarah knows she's in charge of "finalizing the backend API by Friday", there's clear ownership. This kind of direct responsibility makes missed deadlines and "I thought Tom was doing that" scenarios less frequent. Attaching responsibility and a deadline helps drive momentum. The result? A team that's not just running but sprinting towards project goals with conviction. 🎯

Enhanced team communication

Ever played the game of Telephone? Information gets murky when passed along without clarity. 

Action items are the solution to this chaos. By outlining precise tasks and expectations, you can make sure everyone's on the same page (literally and figuratively). This means less "Oh, I thought you meant X" and more "Got it, I'm on it." 

Improved communication doesn't just reduce friction; it oils the gears for a more harmonious and effective collaboration. And we all know when the team vibes, magic happens! ✨

Easier progress monitoring

Picture this: a world where you don't need to send countless "Where are we on this?" messages. Action items can make that dream a reality. By laying out tasks in a structured manner, they serve as your project's pulse checker. 

At a glance, you'll see what's done, what's in motion, and what's next on the horizon. The visual clarity means potential roadblocks can be spotted and tackled early on, ensuring that your project train speeds ahead full steam! 🚂

How to create your own action items

Ready to harness the power of action items and avoid unproductive meetings

Writing well-structured action items is all about clarity, direction, and focus. You’re not here to create an annoying and endless to-do list. By ensuring each item is a clear beacon of what lies ahead, you're setting the stage for measurable outcomes. 

Use actionable terms

Step one: supercharge your action items by using actionable terms. 

Instead of "Website redesign," amp it up to "Redesign homepage with a mobile-first approach." See the difference? 

Action verbs like "finalize," "implement," "review," and "design" breathe life into tasks, making them clear, concise, and way less ambiguous. By being detailed and specific, you ensure there's no room for "Err... what did we mean by this?" moments later on.

Add deadlines and descriptions to your items

A task without a deadline is like a boat no one steers—it's floating, but where's it headed? 🚢 Setting deadlines anchors your action items, ensuring they're not just wishful thinking but tangible goals. 

Adding brief descriptions or notes further fine-tunes this. Instead of "Review code," how about "Review API code for payment gateway integration by Wednesday"? The extra details provide context and guidance, and they also make the task's intent crystal clear.

Specify task owners and priority levels

Every action item needs an assignee—a task owner. Without this, you risk your action item hovering in the void of collective responsibility. "I thought Jenny was on it!" Nope, not anymore. By assigning a task owner, there's clear accountability. 

Prioritization is another tool you can use to keep your action items organized and aligned with your goals. Some tasks need immediate attention, while others can wait. By marking priority levels, you help your team manage workloads effectively, ensuring the urgent and important stuff gets tackled first.

A good action item example

Ready to jump in? Let's analyze an example of a well-written action item. This sample action item was tailored for our IT enthusiasts, but you can use the best practices here on any team. 

Example: "Jacob will collaborate with the frontend team to implement the new search bar feature on the website's homepage, ensuring it's optimized for mobile devices. Deadline: Monday, 14th August."

🔍 Here's why it works:

Actionable Term: "Collaborate with the frontend team to implement" is specific and directive.

Detailed Description: We know it's a "new search bar feature" and it's for "website's homepage."

Clear Owner: Jacob's the person for this one.

Due Date Attached: Monday, 14th August. No ambiguity there!

How to track your team’s action items

So, you've written out your perfect list of action items. High-five! ✋ But let's be real, they're not very helpful if they get lost in the shuffle when your meeting ends. 

Enter: Real-time tracking. This isn't just a fancy buzzword; it's the bridge between planning and execution.

Real-Time Insights: By tracking action items in real-time, you instantly gauge where the team's at. This proactive approach aids in smarter decision-making, ensuring resources are channeled correctly.

Boosted Accountability & Performance: A visible tracking system? It's like a gentle nudge, reminding everyone of their commitments. When team members see tasks moving from 'To Do' to 'Done', there's a sense of accomplishment and motivation.

Steps to Stellar Tracking:

  • Centralized System: Maintain a single platform where all action items are stored and updated. 
  • Status Updates: Allow for status changes—'In Progress', 'Completed', or 'Blocked'. 
  • Regular Check-ins: Don't wait for the next big meeting. Have mini check-ins or use tools (like Spinach 🌱) to automate reminders and status requests.

Make your action items work for you with Spinach

In the busy world of software development, action items can help drive success for your team. A list of well-written action items bring clarity, drive accountability, and streamline communication. And that's where the right tool can be a game-changer.

If you’re looking for help implementing action items in your workflow, you may want to add Spinach to your team. As your AI Scrum Master, Spinach delivers instant meeting summaries, documents action items, and keeps your board up-to-date with ticket suggestions. Spinach takes care of the details, so you don’t have to worry about transcribing your meeting or typing out your action items. 

Having an AI Scrum master at the table means the key decisions and action items are saved seamlessly, so nothing falls through the cracks. Ready to level up to efficient, structured, actionable meetings. Spin your way to Spinach, and let's accelerate your team together!

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