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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 items should be written in such a way that encourages your team to review outstanding action-items and follow-through.

There are a few examples of poorly written Action Items:

1) Talk with our Product Owner more frequently.

How frequently will you speak with the Product Owner?

2) Experiment with Continuous Integration is done

What is the definition of success?

3) Bring food to our next Sprint Planning meeting,

What 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? Give the goal a timeline

Creating Action Items in a SMART Format helps your team understand what resources will be needed, what are the tasks among team members, over what period of time the goal should be worked on, and what process will be followed to complete the task lists.  

One way to ensure your goals are SMART is to use an action item template. I learned this template from Manuel Küblböck

In order to: enter your goal

We will: enter your list of action

Before: enter your due date:

We know that we were successful when: enter your task details

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

With that in mind, let's rewrite the team's list from the beginning of the post in a SMART way:

Original Action Item SMART Action Items:

1) Talk with our Product Owner more frequently in 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 and add comments to the project board.

2) Experiment with Continuous Integration In order to release our product on a more frequent basis we will set up 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.

3) Bring food to our next Sprint Planning meeting In order to increase engagement in our Sprint Planning meetings Tanya will bring a dozen doughnuts to our next Sprint Planning Meeting.

As you create more team goals around projects with larger groups of employees. It is critical that the initial idea maintains the team's larger goals while trying to be SMART. If the Smart goals do not support the overall project, it is ok to take some time and review the priorities of the project and realign the SMART tasks with the steps needed.

Many businesses confuse To-Do lists with SMART Goals. In doing so many organizations miss out on valuable comments from their employees. Larger goals shared by the business should allow for employee feedback and alignment. Goals should be open for comments from employees and have physiological safety to listen to team impacts. To-Do lists do not promote this type of organizational health.

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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