Guidelines and Resources for the Action Planning in Consulting

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    Different Approaches to This Phase

    Similar to the discovery phase, there can be very different approaches and styles in going through this action planning phase, ranging from a carefully specified and sequential set of activities to an unfolding and nonsequential dialogue with clients. (See the very Different Approaches in Consulting and How Consultants Customize Their Approaches.) For the sake of being highly informative with clear and well organized information in this topic, it will explain a rather orderly, but highly collaborative approach to action planning that is especially useful when working to address recurring, complex issues in organizations.

    Overview of This Phase

    In the previous discovery phase, you and your client conducted realistic research, discovered various priorities that needed attention, generated recommendations to address those priorities, and shared your information with others in the organization, for example, in a feedback meeting. Near the end of that meeting, your client selected which recommendations they are committed to implementing.

    This phase is focused on further specifying each of those selected recommendations, along with developing them into various action plans. Thus, the action planning is somewhat of a continuation of the activities near the end of the earlier discovery phase.

    They provide the “roadmap” for managing the transition from the present state to the desired future state. Development of the various action plans is often an enlightening experience for your client because members of their organization begin to realize a more systematic and accountable approach to their planning and day-to-day activities.

    Goals for This Action Planning Phase

    See a video about the action planning phase, including criteria and formats for useful action plans, performance indicators, integrating and aligning, reality checking and writing a change management plan. From the Consultants
    Development Institute
    1. Develop complete action plans for each recommendation that was selected during the discovery phase. Action plans include objectives, responsibilities, timelines and how the achievement of objectives will be monitored.
    2. Align and integrate the action plans with each other to ensure complete effectiveness and efficiency of all action plans throughout the system of the organization.
    3. Ensure action plans are relevant, realistic and flexible so they remain credible and they retain the commitment and participation of all members of the organization.
    4. Combine action plans into an overall Implementation Plan that includes the integrated action plans, as well as associated plans, including those for communicating the Plan and for evaluating the project activities and its results.
    5. Integrate and communicate the contents of the Implementation Plan throughout the organization to ensure its implementation.

    Translate Selected Recommendations into Vision and Goals

    Develop Vision for Change Now?

    Some people prefer to focus their overall project activities on a broad, compelling vision. Many times, that vision for change becomes the same as, or replaces, the overall organizational vision that was developed during strategic planning. The vision for change can be a powerful means to sustain the type of motivation and momentum critical for successful change. The activities of developing that vision can be exciting, as well.

    However, be careful. Expending too much energy on first developing an exciting vision sometimes leaves planners too tired to attend to the important task of developing and refining action plans. If you do decide to include a vision for change, you can carefully develop that vision now, or you might wait until after you have developed all of your action plans and then realistically develop your vision based on the expected outcomes from having implemented those action plans.

    Translate Recommendations Into Goals

    It is very useful now to review each of the selected recommendations from the discovery phase and re-word them into goals. That makes it much easier to articulate specific action plans associated with each goal.

    For example, a recommendation to “Implement best practices in the product development team’s activities” could become the goal “Product development team passes the Ideal Standards Test by January 2019”. Then develop the necessary action plan(s) to achieve that goal.

    Select Best Approaches to Implement Recommendations

    There are a wide variety of approaches to improve organizations. Many of them are common practices in governance, leadership and management, for example, Board development, leadership development, strategic planning and team building. The recommendations from the discovery phase might have already included some suggested approaches.

    The approaches are often referred to as interventions, a term from the field of Organization Development. Read the section How to Choose Which Strategies (Interventions) to Use for Change to select the most likely intervention for now. That section includes complete guidelines for carefully selecting the best intervention for now.


    Develop Action Plans to Implement Recommendations

    Sources of Suggested Actions

    The interventions that you selected very often specifies the types of actions that you need to take in order to implement each intervention. For example, team building often specifies that a high-quality team has a clear purpose, leadership role in the team, means to communicate with upper management, a sufficient budget, means for making decisions and solving problems, and administrative support. Each of those would need an action plan associated with it.

    The organizational diagnostic model that you chose during the discovery phase often has a list of best practices or standards of excellence. Those practices and standards suggests action to take in their list.

    Components of Good Action Plans

    It is extremely important that all of the people who will be responsible for implementing the action plans are also involved in developing them. The best action plan specifies:

    1. What must be accomplished (what many people call “objectives”) to achieve each goal. In our example above, the goal was “Product development team passes the Ideal Standards Test by January 2019”.
    2. Who is responsible for achieving each objective.
    3. The timing to start and finish each objective.
    4. What resources might be required.
    5. How the action plan will be monitored.

    Also consider:

    Integrate and Align All Action Plans

    After all action plans are developed, they should be integrated so that none of them adversely affects or overlaps a great deal with any others. It can be very useful to combine them into one grand timeline and then consider the overlapping times to start and stop them. After they are integrated, do a reality check
    by reviewing any overlaps and the resources required to implement each action plan.

    Then prioritize the plans according to those that will 1) produce the quickest successes (this is very powerful for ensuring credibility and motivation to implement the plans), 2) those that will make the most impact on the goal, and 3) those that can be done much later in the project.
    Action Plans – Alignment, Integration and Reality Check

    Develop Communications Plan

    One of the most important ingredients for successful change is continued communications among stakeholders (those with a stake in the change) to solicit their input to the plans for change and to share status of the implementation.

    Develop Learning Plan

    A professional consultant, whether internal or external, should ensure that the client has the ability to solve similar problems in the future. That can come from continual collaboration and reflection with the client during the project. It can come from continually asking, “What are we learning?”.

    Complete Guidelines to Design Your Training Plan (to capture the learnings during the project)

    Develop Evaluation Plan

    Evaluation should occur during the entire project and be about the quality of the project’s activities as they are underway and also about the final results of the project at its completion. The evaluation plan is very similar to the research plan used during the discovery phase, including to specify the research question, what information is needed to answer it, how the data will be collect and when. The following link refers to developing a program evaluation plan, but is just as applicable to developing a project evaluation plan.

    Basic Guide to Program Evaluation (is also relevant to projects — use to develop evaluation plans)

    Integrate Plans Into Overall Implementation Plan

    That Plan will be very useful during the upcoming implementation phase. The Plan should specify

    1. Focus of the change effort
    2. Its purpose (the problem it is solving)
    3. Management’s explicit support of the change effort
    4. Recommendations that it is implements
    5. Action plans and the recommendation(s) that each implements
    6. Grand timeline for implementation and
    7. How status will be communicated
    8. Appendix – that contains criteria for successful change

    Management should sign the Plan to indicate its support and oversight of the Plan.

    Some Useful Resources and Skills for This Phase

    General Resources

    Also See These Closely Related Topics

    Additional Library Resources in the Category of Organizational
    Change and Development