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What Is an Action Item?

Maggie Worth
Maggie Worth

An action item is a task that needs to be accomplished, often as a step in a larger project or undertaking. In business, such items are frequently assigned to individual or departmental members of a project team, according to availability and area of expertise. In most cases, action items are accompanied by a delivery or due date, a date by which the task must be accomplished in order for other tasks to be completed on time.

In large business projects, a project manager is often responsible for developing and maintaining the action item list, assigning each action item and ensuring that each team member meets his due dates. Development of the list is an early step in any project plan and is critical to the success of the project. Each required action must be identified and clearly defined so that it can be assigned to a responsible party. It is also critical that each item be placed in its proper position in the timeline because other actions may be dependent upon the completion of an earlier item.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

For example, a team might be working to develop a new product for a client. Initial action item list tasks might include identifying the budget, determining the maximum allowable size, obtaining a final order quantity, and eliciting a need-by date from the client. The next round of action items might include designing the product and identifying materials. This second round of tasks cannot even be started until the first round of tasks is completed because the type of materials selected and the complexity of the design will be significantly affected by the size of the item, the number ordered, the time in which a finished product must be delivered, and the available budget. If an individual responsible for a first-round task does not meet his due date, the due dates for all subsequent task rounds will be pushed back as well.

Timely completion of an action item is also critical because subsequent action items sometimes can't be identified until the results from a task are reported. For example, an agency that is tasked with creating a marketing plan for a public university might assign someone to find out what restrictions apply to the use of governmental funds for promotional items. If the result of that inquiry is that such funds cannot be used to purchase promotional items, the subsequent action item might be to find out if the college has access to donor funds that can be used. If the answer to the initial query is that government funds may be used, but that promotional items cannot include edible or drinkable items, the next action item might be to identify which non-food items are best for the university.

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