6 steps for action plans


After running multiple businesses over the past 17 years, I’ve found that the ability to create a successful action plan is one of the most critical tools in the entrepreneurial skillset. If you’re struggling with creating plans that get your organization moving forward, or are lost on where to begin, read on!

The struggle was real

I had been struggling to improve anything for a while. My business was constantly taking a step forward in terms of growth by landing a new client, selling a big project, partnering with a new, exciting vendor. I would feel jubilation, I would celebrate, I would get that huge burst of dopamine for the “win.” Then the “step back” would occur. We’d drop the ball on a service delivery. We’d lose a client. Revenue would go back to where it had been before. My motivation would fail. My attitude would suck. Everything was officially “the worst.”  This back-and-forth yo-yo was terrible. The team struggled during it. I struggled during it. Other clients would notice the changes. We never seemed to get traction. We were “stuck”. 

Action Plans were the answer

I started embracing the principles of our strategic planning methodology (Paterson Center’s StratOp™) wholeheartedly. I would thoughtfully consider problems, and their potential causes. I would think through all courses of action versus jumping at the first solution I saw. I started planning. 

Things slowly but surely started to get better over time. We still had pit falls, but they didn’t go as deep. We still lost clients from time to time, but not as routinely. Overall, we moved “up and to the right” in terms of performance and improvement. 

I found a list of 6 key items that always came up, over and again, in every single instance where we took action that “worked” and wanted to share them here. These became the crux of my “successful action plan cookbook” as it were – essential ingredients to a successful recipe of success. It also formed the basis of my process for improvement. 

1. Gain perspective about the issue:

Tom Paterson would preach “Perspective before planning, always.” It’s so important to StratOp™ that it’s a core principle of the methodology (Principle number 4 to be precise). I’ve found that by examining a problem from different points of view, I gain a clearer understanding of the problem, and can craft a better solution. In my I.T. company I would look at the issue from the point of view of the customer, from the point of view of my service team, from my desk as the owner/shareholder of the company, from the point of view of any third-party vendors or suppliers, and from the view of the “plan” for the client. All points of view were equally valid and important and had to be balanced. 

2. Create a list of items needed for a “good solution”:

Once I had perspective, I would list the key items that would “solve” for the problem. Sometimes this list would involve me talking to others about the situation. Sometimes it involved research and reading of material and guidance. Sometimes it was sitting and staring at a blank sheet of paper and seeing what dropped out. Regardless of how I came up with the items, I would write all of them down. 

3. Organize actions in sequential order:

Once I had the items I needed to do, I organized the items in sequence. What had to come first, second, third? What items depended on a different item being done? I wanted to make sure my plan flowed in a graceful, linear fashion so it could be clearly communicated to all. This also created the timeline for the project. Due dates are easy to assign in a sane, achievable fashion when all actions are in sequence, and I would do so while creating my plan.

4. Assign impact and responsible parties:

Once I had the sequence down, I listed out impact statements to each step. What areas of my company would be impacted by the solution? What areas of the client’s organization would be impacted? What impact would occur to the suppliers? Who needed to participate in the solution, and how? Every step would have these questions answered. This forms the crux of the action plan. 

5. Budget (Dollars and Time):

Once I had everything assigned, I would talk to my team and get cost estimates for our side of things. If I was able, I would also assign a cost for our clients and suppliers, at least for the management of the project. If there was downtime associated for the client environment, I would call that out. If there were specific actions needed to be performed by a vendor, those too would be detailed and highlighted. This budget then was totaled and analyzed for feasibility. Could we afford to take the actions needed for a “good” solution? Could our client? Would the supplier participate as detailed in the solution? Everyone needed to be onboard with the costs. 

6. Scrub the action plan:

Once I had the action plan detailed out with Actions, Sequence, Impact, Parties responsible, and Budget, I did a sanity check. Could we honor the dates as detailed in the calendar? Could we afford the financial and time requirements? Did we miss any important steps or details? I would rope in leaders at my organization to check the plan details. Once I was done with my internal analysis, I would run the plan by the client and get their feedback and buy in. We would do the same with any third-party suppliers and vendors needed for success. Then we would launch the plan. 

I still use this methodology today for action planning. I will say it’s a bit easier to do with a team of two, but the plan scaled up quite nicely for Doberman as we grew and scaled. My hope is that some of this process may be useful for you in your organization as you plan and improve. 

If you’re struggling with how to plan for what’s next in your organization Richardson & Richardson can help. Check out our case studies for stories of organizations that we’ve assisted with similar issues and download our white papers for deep dives on tools you can use in your organization. If you’re wondering where to start, book a complimentary session with one of the Richardsons today to come up with a plan on how to move forward.

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