PSU Insight

Writing Your Business Plan

Make Things Happen with Action Plans

By this point, you may feel that you’re spending all your time planning, and not acting. But the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the way to perform your activities with the greatest efficiency is to plan them in advance. You need an Action Plan.

Actually, I should say that you need “Action Plans” — plural. You should certainly construct an Action Plan for your overall business, but you can also construct Action Plans for each of your individual projects. The process is the same for each.

Here’s how to construct an action plan. First, you state what you want to accomplish, and how much time you expect it to take. For example, let’s say you want to write and self-publish a book, and that you anticipate it will take you a year to do that —

1 year Write and publish my book

Next, you divide the period that you’re working on the project (in this example, a year) into three to five units. (For this example, a year divides quite nicely into four quarters.) Now determine what you need to accomplish in each sub-period in order for you to accomplish your final goal.

Our action plan now becomes —

1 year Write and publish my book
 Q1  Develop outline, design cover and back cover
 Q2  Write first ½ of book content
 Q3  Write remainder of content
 Q4  Edit, typeset, and send to printer

Next, you divide the first sub-period into three to five sub-sub-periods, and determine what action is needed in each of those periods in order to accomplish the first sub-period task(s).

You usually do not subdivide the other sub-periods because you may not know enough about them yet. In this example, for instance, Q2 is “write first ½ of book content.” Since you haven’t written the book outline yet, you probably cannot go into further detail about writing the book itself. (If you do know enough to subdivide the other periods, go ahead. But the crucial one to subdivide is the upcoming period.)

In this example, the first quarter can easily be divided into three months, and our action plan becomes —

1 year Write and publish my book
 Q1  Develop outline, design cover and back cover
   Month 1    Develop book outline
   Month 2    Design front cover
   Month 3    Design back cover
 Q2  Write first ½ of book content
 Q3  Write remainder of content
 Q4  Edit, typeset, and send to printer

You see how it works. The next step is to take the first month and divide it into four weeks, and assign an action to each week. If you want, you can then divide the first week into five individual work days. (Or, that may be too finely detailed for you. Keep dividing as long as it’s practical.)

So here in a nutshell is how to construct an action plan —

1. Your action plan should state what you want to accomplish, and the time frame that’s required.

2. That period is subdivided into a small number of sub-periods, with an action assigned to each sub-period.

3. The first sub-period is further subdivided into a small number of sub-periods, each with its own action.

4. Step 3 is repeated as many times as practical.

Finally, here’s the important thing — your action plan must make sense! If you determine that you cannot perform a particular “action” in the necessary time frame, then you must restructure your action plan.

(In our example, suppose after considering your schedule you determine that, due to other work commitments, you cannot write ½ of the book content in a single quarter. Since both Q2 and Q3 will take longer than you had initially planned, you need to restructure your action plan — and you probably need to allow more than a year to develop your book.)

So your action plan is a dynamic plan — it could easily change as you progress through your project. Don’t be discouraged if you do need to change your action plan. After all, your action plan is an estimate, and it may well need to be adjusted. But a flexible plan-that-needs-changes beats the heck out of no plan at all!