A Quick Guide to Action Items & Action Item Lists


More likely than not, you have created an action item without realizing it. If you’ve ever written a to-do list, you’ve made yourself a set of action items—errands to run, household chores to complete, people to contact, etc.

Managing large-scale projects is a much more complicated process, and it calls for a sophisticated system of creating, assigning and tracking action items.

What Are Action Items?

Action items are discrete, actionable tasks serving as “stepping stones” toward a more complex objective. Creating a list of action items is the best way to assign these jobs and track progress.

Action items take many forms, from activities that must be completed to events that must take place. Their defining characteristic, though, is that each item completed leads to the conclusion of a greater task. These items must be concise, and are generally completed by a single individual.

While they may appear simple, creating a list of action items is more involved than you might expect. Poorly created directives can slow down an entire project or even lead to total failure. For this reason, it’s essential to understand the best ways to create and use them to propel your project forward.

An action item list in ProjectManager.com

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Who Creates Action Items?

Managers and team leaders are generally responsible for creating and assigning action items. Individuals in these roles set tasks and break them down into lists which team members can complete and “check off.” It’s the manager’s job to know who should work on which action item and which require multiple team members.

Action items are crucial when working on complex tasks in a team setting, as they keep team members from stepping on each other’s toes and doing unnecessary work.

The Purpose of an Action Item List

A rolling action item list is a good way to track everyone’s responsibilities during the project. This makes it easier to find answers to any questions you might have in the future. An action item list shows exactly what went right and what went wrong during a project, as well as how much effort and resources certain tasks required.

Things to Consider When Creating an Action Item List

There are five details you should always include in order to make sure the item is understood and can be tracked:

  • The name of the task
  • The important dates – creation, planned completion, actual completion
  • The description of the action item
  • The risks or issues to look out for
  • Who will own the action item

Action Item Examples

Imagine a meeting in which a project is being planned and a task list is being discussed. These tasks must be completed before the project can move forward. In order to make these abstract tasks more manageable, the project manager will break them into distinct action items.

These are easier for team members to wrap their heads around and execute, and easier for project managers to track. Here are a few examples:

Elements of an Action Item

Follow a set criteria for creating action items to include all the necessary information in a way anyone can understand. This process is not complicated, but there are key elements to keep in mind:

Title and Tracking Number

This is the name of the action item – its simplest descriptor. Keep the title short, as you will write a description and expand on the details there. It is advisable to assign a tracking number to each item. This will simplify how you track and report on them, especially when dealing with many action items at once.

Priority Level

When dealing with multiple action items, assign each a priority in order to know what to focus on first. Not all of them necessarily must be completed in the order they were assigned. Some will naturally be more pressing than others.

Date of Creation and Estimated Completion

There are three dates to keep in mind when creating action items: creation date, estimated completion date and eventual completion date. Note that not all will be completed, and some may instead be “resolved”. These are items that have become unnecessary along the way and don’t need to be completed.

Creator and Assignee

Include who created the action item, as well as who they assigned it to. This makes it easier for anyone involved to know where to direct questions. Essentially, this is a way to speed up communication.


The description should expand on the title. Keep in mind, this should still be a simple description — a summation, not a step-by-step guide. Generally, action item descriptions are only a sentence or two.

Expanded Description

Here you may include any other pertinent details the assignee needs to execute the task. Depending on the action item, this may not be necessary.

Best Practices for Maintaining an Action Item List

As you begin writing, there are a few best practices to keep in mind:

Begin With a Verb

When action items are written as nouns, odds are, they’re too broad. This can lead to confusion. For example, titling an action item “proofread investor emails” vs. “investor emails” gives a clearer idea of exactly what needs to be done.

Be Concise

Action items should make things simpler, not more complicated. If they are too “wordy” or contain unnecessary detail, they can confuse the assignee and slow things down. Less is more.

Write So Anyone Can Understand

Action items will always make sense to whoever created them, but consider if they’ll make as much sense to a first-time reader. The assignee should know exactly what to do.

Keep Resources in Mind

As you create an action item, consider the required resources like budget, labor and time. These resources may impact who you assign it to and what other items you assign them.

Anticipate Resulting Action Items

Successfully completing one job can unlock the door to another. When you anticipate these additional jobs ahead of time, you’ll be a step ahead.

What is Action Item Tracking?

After writing action items, execution and tracking begin. As these are worked on, you should track and record their progress in order to inform decisions and strategies. When done correctly, tracking should reveal where to tweak task management strategies in the future.

Action item tracking is the process of monitoring an action item from start to finish and recording the information. This information can be easily referred back to and even inform future decisions.

Tracking is especially important after a project is completed. Without it, useful information about how an action item was handled is essentially wasted. Ideally, this information will be saved and used at a later date.

Use an Action Item Tracker

An action item tracker allows project managers to record and update action items. Traditionally, these were simple spreadsheets. Now, the best trackers offer higher functionality and allow for team collaboration.

Properly formatting an action item list is key in order to keep data organized for the future. There will more than likely be fresh eyes looking at these lists, and they need to understand what they’re looking at. This means keeping formatting consistent and including the same set of data on each list, no matter the project.

Why Should You Use a Template

Action items are a constant part of task management. They are something team leads create and use throughout the life of any project. For this reason, your lists should be formatted in the same way and include the same information. This consistency cuts down on confusion and improves results.

As the assignee, you should know exactly what is expected of you no matter what you have been assigned or who assigned it. An action item template ensures all the information you need is there in a format you can understand.

Action Items Template for Excel
ProjectManager’s Action Items Template for Excel

Our action item template ensures you include all the necessary details and format the lists the same way every time. In doing so, you won’t have to waste valuable time reacquainting yourself with a new format. You have the information you need, and you know where to find it.

For even better results, combine this template with powerful project management software with project tracking and reporting tools.

How to Use the Action Items Template with ProjectManager

ProjectManager is an award-winning tool that allows you to organize, execute, track and report on your action item lists with a greater degree of productivity.

List Action Items on Different Project Views

A simple spreadsheet can get the job done, but its static nature can be limited. With our software, you lay out all of your action items on a Gantt chart, task list or kanban board. Every project view easily allows you to assign action items and track the progress from concept to completion.

Kanban board in ProjectManager.com for tracking action items

Track Action Item Status on Dashboard

To track the progress and performance of the assignee, you can use the real-time dashboard, which feeds real-time data from each of your team members and converts it into graphs and charts that display metrics such as time, variance and more.

Dashboard view in ProjectManager.com to track action items

Collaborate With Your Team with Cloud-Based Software

With our collaborative platform, team members can collaborate and tackle the work in a more effective manner. Users can attach files and images, comment and tag people to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

task description in ProjectManager.com

ProjectManager is an award-winning project management solution that takes your project every step of the way. Online planning tools and web-based task management features let you collaborate on the go and make adjustments throughout the life of the project. Then, create comprehensive reports from the data with only a few clicks. See for yourself by taking this free 30-day trial today.

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