how to track action items?

after a meeting we will normally have action items to be performed by each team member.

some team member in my team will find excuses to delay their tasks meeting after meeting.

Any suggestion on how to effectively track these action items from start till completion?

To Do Lists

This suggestion is similar to a Getting Things Done method: Use To Do Lists to manage your (and others') tasks.

All action items for meetings I chair go into my To Do lists under a "Follow Up:" category. Every X number of days (usually a week), my To Do list will send me a tickler notice reminding me to follow up with people on their incomplete tasks. This continues until they complete their tasks.

Any action items I have for myself go into appropriate lists to remind me when/where I need to complete the item.

BJ

The problem here is not your tool

Mark and Mike have a pair of podcasts specifically about how to get team members to do what they committed to do, on time.

http://www.manager-tools.com/2006/12/develop-a-sense-of-urgency-in-your-...

Highly recommended for your situation.

John Hack

Use a ubiquitous task tracking tool

First I want to warn that I think tools are secondary, people are the most important.

That being said, good tools can help support people and help them communicate effectively on tasks.

We use a 'simple' issue-tracking system which we use for almost anything. We track our processes and projects in this system. We also use it for requirements and for management issues. All of these are tasks which need to be done so why use different tools to track them?

The big advantage is it bcomes very easy to drop tasks in the right location or system (there is only one system). Everyone can easily ask all open tasks which they need to do. Everyone can see the tasks they put into the system. People can 'watch' a task so they are notified when something is changed.

Something I specially appreciate is that it allows a place for an ad-hoc team to gather information about a task. If everyone is sufficiently disciplined to log there work and findings in the tickets. If you have tasks to be performed by geographically dispersed people, this works very well.

Now introducing this is not easy. It requires perseverance and a lot of things conspire against it.

The tool vendors make the tools more and more customisable which allows a closer fit to the 'process', unfortunately this just ends up with increasing complexity and reduced flexibility. The reasoning is 'if we customize the tool, it will drive the process', unfortunately people do not like systems driving, they like real people in the driver's seat.

Another pitfall is to use different systems for different purposes, the 'best-of-breed' approach. These separate systems create white spaces in the organisation which are difficult to cross. Again flexibility suffers and we people become victims of technology. Of course they can be integrated but these integrations induce inertia in the system, making it difficult to make changes to the processes afterwards.

Ok, I am drifting from the original question. If there is a ubiquitous issue/task tracking system in your organisation, it might be useful to setup a project/module/whatever in that system to track meeting actions. Keep it simple : new - open -resolved - closed is about all the workflow which is really needed for these things.

If there is not such a system, do not introduce it for this reason. I believe people will resent it. Keep a GTD 'Waiting For' list or a tickler file instead.

In either case the important factor is the human factor. These 'tickets' represent reminders for conversations. Even if it is just a 'thanks' for for a finihed task.

Peter Tillemans

 I agree with Snamellit.

 I agree with Snamellit. People are the most important and it's really important to hone in on those soft skills and make sure everyone feels like they are apart of the team and working towards the same goal and have some sort of buy-in on the projects you are working on. For me, I have really tried to focus on the members of my team, but at the same time I use <a href="http://www.PureProjectTools.com">PureProjectTools.com</a> to track progress and action items, etc. Not only do I use <a href="http://www.PureProjectTools.com">PureProjectTools</a> but I get everyone on my team to use it as well. As soon as we all started using the same software, we became more efficient. It was a world of difference. It really helped us stay on task, and track our action items and progress. We could see where we were at on different projects and could see who was doing what. It really helped having people be accountable for the work they were (or weren't) doing. I've tried so many different products out there (they seem to be endless) and this way by far the most suitable for my situation where I have many ongoing tasks and projects and people who are situated all over the place. Good luck!

To do lists with reminders

 I rely on the to do feature of my calendar tool to send me regular updates of tasks that need to be done. The more critical the task, the more frequent the reminder (weekly or even daily). It goes without saying that the project workplans be checked religiously.

Keep it simple

Hi,

 

Great question. Many different solutions all with pro's and cons - I have tried many but keep on coming back to one because of it's simplicity.

I use a Google Spreadsheet that I call Who Does What By When (thanks MT). Easy to see, edit and share. You can use a little more advanced functionality like colour coding for dates, peoples names, filtering, displaying etc.

Things to think about for every system:

-Try to only have 1 master to-do list so you don't have to check in many places and can be focused on your priorities because you're confident that all important to-do tasks are not going to be forgotten. In practice I go over my master list daily and re-prioritize tasks for the day onto a written piece of paper. Be careful of other sneaky lists - these can consist of seemingly innocuous items such as post it notes, things left "out" to be attended to, calendar reminders, Action lists from various meetings (I will tell you how I eliminate/combine these later).

-Do not use your email inbox as a to-do list because your email is time ordered not priority ordered. In the GTD method check email twice a day and put tasks arising from emails onto the to-do list

I put all the actions into this Google Spreadsheet, whether they arise in a OOO, a team meeting, email, delegation or task allocation or other forum/method. This is the real benefit of the system - it gets all deliverables into one place. I also put my actions as relate to my staff members on here - so they have visibility of what I am doing for them and eliminates other lists.

Essential columns are:

-Columns for Who, Does What, By When

-Action number (unique sequential) & date

-Forum: This is where the action arose for example in a team meeting or sales meeting or OOO. I use this so that if we are in a particular forum for example the weekly sales meeting, we can filter to only see actions coming from the weekly sales meeting

-Date action completed

-Comments: There are always comments!

-Status column (to mark the actions as closed) This is important as the list grows over time and therefore you want to be able to hide/remove completed actions. Also the person responsible for the action should mark the date the action is completed but probably not as closed - the manager or person who allocated the task probably wants to close actions as this is a positive confirmation that the action has been done plus gives them a chance to consider if the action is completed to their satisfaction.

Optional Columns that may help or hinder depending on your circumstance:

-Description: A more detailed explanation of the "Does What" For example is a delegation I might detail a lot of the steps, quality and reporting requirements here.

-Description of work done: A description of what was done on the action - only if you need to know what was done on actions.

-Owner: This is the "Boss" of the action - the person who allocated it and the person who has the authority to decide if an action is closed

-Priority: Only use with caution if your circumstances justify it. As I mentioned I think people should review all their actions and due dates and based on that make their own daily work schedule/goals on an independent short list. As a manager I expect my staff to be able to prioritise and manage their work loads by themselves so doing it for them devalues their ownership. Plus if something is urgent or really important - you will still track it on this spreadsheet but you should inform your staff member directly - not let them find out by reading their actions

-Consult & Inform: The remaining members of the RACI matrix. If you need these you are probably in matrix management hell but can be helpful at instilling a discipline of communication

Critiques:

This is very Boss centric - it's great for you as the manager to manage your team and keep track of your own to-do's. Difficult to scale upwards or too far down or too far across into multifunctional project teams. Having said that - if your requirements overwhelm this simple system then you really do need a proper enterprise level task tracking solution.

Try avoid small inconsequential actions - is the action really worth the overhead of tracking it, indeed is it even worth doing. Common topics should be grouped into single actions or a single deliverable.

You will see the action list grows dauntingly - this is because there are so many things happening. However this is also a benefit in disguise - a trick to focus is deciding what you don't do. Be OK at admitting less important things perhaps shouldn't be done and close them down.

Benefits:

Several. But this also forms a really good history of what it is your team has been doing. Can be data mined for delegations, performance reviews, job descriptions etc.

 

Keith

7117 

a little more

I received a Private message asking for a little more detail on my system and how to roll it out. For the benefit of the rest of you, my reply is below:

 

We use Google Docs quite extensively so that does help. When people start to see the great features of Google Docs that helps to sell it in as the solution for other problems. The main benefit is that people can edit a sheet concurrently - none of this worrying where the file is saved and who is busy editing it. You might have another use case to get the team to use it.

 

The biggest barrier is getting a people to use Google Docs if they have not done this before. It's not terribly difficult to learn and there are many Google training resources on this. Personally I think Google Docs are so useful that if my staff haven't used them previously then I encourage them to learn it - so there's a good tie in with staff development and coaching, using the task tracking list is also a good practice opportunity.

Having said that - the important thing is that it's easy for you to use - if you have staff that don't use it (either due to lack of will, skill or computer access) you can always print out their actions periodically or even make a filter link for just their actions. (One of the guys in the workshop didn't have a work computer and so I made a filter with only their actions and created a link to this. This link was then loaded onto their smartphone as a button on their homescreen. This meant their actions were then available to them at all times (but this was read only)).

The technique I recommend to sell it in is use the meeting ground rules (see podcasts on how to set agree ground rules). Define the problem (the need to track action items, have visibility plus consolidate into one place) agree that these are the main problems and then propose the technique on a trial basis until something better comes along. People would struggle to argue with that!

 

You may want to start a little smaller though, your team is quite large for a bunch of directs.

People naturally resist change and while they should have the autonomy to decide how to do their own jobs don't forget it is your prerogative to decide how to manage them and what systems to use. Therefore enforce compliance by them plus use it yourself - if you have a status update with a team member, make sure they refer to the deliverables on the document and they update what they should - don't do this for them. If you consistently use this and push them back to it with feedback when they don't, they will eventually get the message.

 

Of course use the DiSC profiles of your staff to justify this and consider pre-wiring any high S's, justify people effects for the I's and S's, justify effectiveness for the D's and C's

Main lookouts is it can become overly large if too many things get put onto the list - consider level of detail that is appropriate and also the usual of things tending to slide which pile up. So enforce staff sticking to deadlines (there are casts on this).

 

Put meaningful future dates on and move quickly past items not due before the next meeting.

 

Hope that helps, let me know how you get on.

Keith

                                                                    

 

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Keith

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Great message about your tracking list. 

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I am a high s and have five groups with almost 20 people working in my unit. How did you roll this out?  Did you receive a lot of pushback?  

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What kind of major problems did you encounter in managing this?

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thanks

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mike 

Excel desaster - todo list back on track

 Hi,

I have joined a project where Excel was used to manage all the action items of the team - and more. The sheet has al lot of columns like submission date, planed date, revised date, auther, source-meeting etc... 11 columns. But only 3  items of information are really relevant: who does what by when. By hell, they used filters and so it happens - they overwrite items several times. The overall list becomes inconsistent.

Now, we are going to use a simple Word-List. Each paragraph consits of exactly one scope element of the project (each element was fixed by a baseline). The paragraph has one simple table: ID of the topic, the to-do item incl. status or explanation if required and a third and last column with the deadline incl. the responsible project member. That's all. Works fine. Keep it simple!

 

Kind regards

Ingo