Initial Publication Date: April 13, 2015

Action Planning

Creating an action plan to guide the work of the department going forward just as important as deciding on the direction the department wants to go. Strategic priorities for change, the context in which that change will occur, as well as actions that the department will take, and who will spearhead them, are all parts that need to be articulated clearly. The action plan also includes guidelines for determining when the department has met its goals. At the same time, the action plan document isn't the sacred end product. Planning is an ongoing process, and living action plans are the ones that work while static documents often fail.

Move From Vision to Action

Obviously, creating a plan of action begins with knowing where you want to get to. A purposeful visioning process allows all members of the department to contribute and results in a consensus on the most important issues to address. There will almost certainly be far more things that faculty want to do or think they "should" do than there is time, energy, and resources to accomplish. Focusing your action plan around 3-5 high priority issues that everyone can agree on has the best potential for promoting successful changes with long-lasting results.

For each of these 3-5 priority items, lay out the details explicitly.

  • What issue or need is being addressed? Is this goal both important and achievable?
  • What needs to be done? What does success look like and do the proposed actions lead to that desired result?
  • Who is doing what? Assign responsibility for specific tasks to specific individuals.
  • What is the timeline for progress? Schedule checkpoints along the way to help keep things moving forward.
  • What resources are needed? Does the plan make effective and appropriate use of the people and materiel in the department and institution? Is there a plan for obtaining other resources as necessary?
  • What challenges or issues to implementing the plan are anticipated? Is there a strategy for addressing them or a fall back position identified for major challenges?
  • How will success be measured? Is there a plan for monitoring progress and making appropriate adjustments? Is there a data collection/assessment plan that will produce the data needed to demonstrate success?

Also think about how these strategic priorities for action affect each other. Is the action plan as a whole realistic and feasible in the context of you department and institution? Is it described in sufficient detail that you can see a pathway to successful completion? Is the timeline reasonable and realistic? How could the plan be strengthened?

Implement and Maintain the Plan

Consider your action plan to be a living document. It's going to change and evolve with external and internal events. How will the action plan be modified as actions unfold or situations change? Think about the mechanisms and supports that can be put in place to help ensure that faculty and staff stay engaged and take their parts of the plan through to completion.

Maintain enthusiasm and momentum

Creating an action plan can seem like a mountain-top experience when it's finished, but implementing it in the day-to-day world of department life is often more challenging. Once everyone returns to their regular schedules, it's important to make sure that there are incentives and supports to maintain the enthusiasm and momentum that accompanied the plan's creation.

  • Have a point person (responsible party) for each action item, and make sure that continued engagement and progress bring rewards (such as during annual reviews)
  • Refer to the action timeline regularly as a part of routine planning. If a task deadline slips, then revise the plan and update other items that are dependent on it.
  • Report upward through the institution as work progresses so that the dean will be enthused and prod for continued success.
  • Take advantage of external deadline that already exist to drive action forward. Talks at professional societies or required reports to the administration provide impetus to show progress.
  • Celebrate major successes. Nothing creates excitement quite like completing important work and showing it off.

Carve time out of busy schedules

Everyone is busy, so it can take some creativity to ensure that faculty and staff have the time they need to complete their parts of the plan. Department retreats can be very useful but they take substantial dedicated time. Another option is setting aside part of each department meeting or whole sessions a few times a year to simply working on aspects of the action plan. Weekly lunch meetings are also a good informal way of facilitating conversations around the action plan as well as creating a more social and collegial atmosphere.

Treat the action plan as a living document

An action plan is a guide for a particular course that you've collectively chosen to pursue. As important as those guidelines are, they are not set in stone. If conditions in or surrounding the department have changed, then the plan may need to change in response. It's also important not to think of the plan as a straight jacket, but as something that provides flexibility while still keeping everyone moving in the same direction.

It's a good idea to schedule "check-ups" for the action plan. Every six months or yearly, revisit the plan as it stands and make sure that it still represents the consensus on priorities. In addition give some thought to how new actions that are needed can be incorporated into the plan without a complete overhaul. There can be a mechanism for adding new tasks or changing the person responsible for a task that doesn't destabilize the plan as a whole.

Successes are also events that can change the action plan going forward. Completing some part of the plan can open up possibilities that weren't available before. Think about how those new possibilities can be wrapped into the ongoing parts of the action plan or added on as new segments.