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Make your Action Items SMART

Action Items are “discrete tasks to be accomplished by the team.” Notice the word accomplished is part of the definition? That means your Action Items should be written in such a way that encourages follow-through.

There are a few examples of poorly written Action Items:

Action ItemWhat’s WrongTalk with our Product Owner more frequentlyHow frequently will you speak with the Product Owner?Experiment with Continuous IntegrationHow will you know when this is done? What is the definition of success?Bring food to our next Sprint Planning meetingWhat food will we bring? How much? Who will bring the food?

In fact, each of these Action Items could be improved if they followed the SMART Goal format. Here’s what SMART stands for:

Specific – what are you going to do and who will be doing it?
Measurable – how can you quantify progress?
Achievable – can you actually accomplish this?
Relevant – does it matter? will it fix the problem?
Time Based – when will it be done?

One way to ensure your Action Items are SMART is to use a template. I learned this template from Manuel Küblböck.

In order to <reach a goal>
we will <do an action>
before <a point in time>.
We know that we were successful when <measure a result>.

Note that the template above is not one-size-fits-all. Sometimes you will find it easier to write your Action Items in a different way, while still being SMART about them.

With that in mind, let’s rewrite the Action Items from the beginning of the post in a SMART way:

Original Action ItemSMART Action ItemTalk with our Product Owner more frequentlyIn order to make sure we are building the right thing throughout the sprint at least one person on the team will speak with the Product Owner on a daily basis.
Experiment with Continuous IntegrationIn order to release our product on a more frequent basis
we will setup a continuous integration server
before the end of the next sprint.
We will know that we were successful when commits to the code are automatically pushed to the continuous integration server.Bring food to our next Sprint Planning meetingIn order to increase engagement in our Sprint Planning meetings
Tanya will bring a dozen doughnuts to our next Sprint Planning Meeting.

It goes without saying, but — taking the time to write your Action Items in this way takes time. That’s okay. The payoff is well worth it!

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