How to use a simple decision making process to ensure you have a workable action plan for achieving goals
Whether you are an individual thinking about a career change, a team undertaking a new project or a large organisation rolling out a strategy you will need an action plan of some sort.
Action plans do not need to be overly complicated. For example, at the simplest level, to-do lists and shopping lists can be crude but effective action plans.
If you are an individual aiming to achieve a simple goal such as going on holiday the details of the plan will of course be very different to a large multinational corporation making an action plan for launching their next product. But despite this the initial questions that you need to ask are very similar.
These questions are captured in The Right Questions decision making process and can be applied quickly – as a rapid problem solving method – or in a more lengthy in-depth study to formulate a detailed plan or strategy.
The Right Questions decision making process employs the seven basic interrogatives in the English language to provide an easy to remember and holistic approach to problem solving and uses the ‘wh’ words (and how) as triggers to look at factors in whatever depth is required.
You can find out more about The Right Questions and get an overview of the system via the following link:
In terms of applying the questions the decision making process is cyclical. The first three questions (where, what and why) work together in framing the strategy and giving the backdrop to the plan. These questions inform each other and it could be that these need to be explored several times before moving onto the second set of questions.
The second part of the process (how, when, who and which) is more about planning and forms the detail within the boundaries created by the initial questioning. These questions also create a loop of their own and there is a cross-fertilisation of ideas between the questions.
The two parts of the cycle interact via the ‘which’ question which is primarily about options and risk. When transitioning from the strategic framing (where, what, why) to the planning (how, when, who) it is useful to start with asking ‘which?’ and exploring various options that could be independently developed into plans. An initial weighing of options can take place, a preferred course of action can be chosen, and then the how, when and who questions can be considered.
After looking at the how, when and who in more detail it is then good to cycle back to the ‘which’ question and look at risks in more detail. These may then trigger another pass around the planning part of the decision process or even another look at the strategic framing. Therefore the process is iterative, not linear, and perhaps is best illustrated as a figure of eight, as in the picture below.
Action plan templates
Whether you are doing a quick appreciation of a situation or looking at a problem in greater detail it is useful to create a simple summary of your conclusions. Practically it is useful to have this summary on a single piece of paper that is quick and easy to refer and easily communicated or shared.
An action plan template can help you achieve this headline view of the challenge you are facing and remind you of the critical factors you need to address. If you post the action plan in a prominent place – be it your noticeboard, fridge or computer screen – it will also help to keep you accountable to the next steps you need to take in your plan.
I have created a one page template that summarises key factors from The Right Questions methodology in a mind map format. You can download your free action plan template that uses The Right Questions decision making process by clicking on the link below:
Best of luck in achieving your goals! Do please leave a comment if you have any questions or would like to share a success story.