An action item is work that requires follow-up execution. By their nature, action items normally cannot be planned for in advance.

They arise on an ad-hoc basis during meetings or as working on something else.

An action item is assigned because there is not enough knowledge, expertise or time to resolve the item at the time it originally surfaced.

Here is some information regarding the nature of action items.

Action items should be trivial in nature. 

Action items are small work items that need to be assigned, worked on later and completed in one or two reporting cycles. (If they are not going to be completed, they should not be called action items. Instead, simply note that the item will not be followed up on and then forget about it.)

Examples of action items include forwarding information to someone, arranging a meeting and providing a quick estimate on a piece of work.

Action items are not the same as issues:. 

Sometimes an action item is established to investigate an area where there may be a potential problem. Because of this, action items are sometimes mixed in with issues.

However, this is not right. An action item should not be confused with an issue.

An issue is a problem which will have a detrimental impact on the project if left unresolved.

An action item may lead to the discovery of an issue or a risk (a potential issue in the future), but the action item itself is not an issue.

Manage action items in an action item log:.

One approach is to create a section for action items on your meeting minutes.

Action items can be placed here if they are trivial (less than two hours) and they are scheduled to be completed by the next meeting.

If you use this technique you can start each meeting with a review of the prior action items to validate that they are completed and then cross them off the list.

Move larger action items to your project schedule:.

 Larger action items should be added to the project schedule.

A resource and end-date are assigned as well, and the activity is then managed and tracked as any normal activity on the schedule.

This keeps all the work items in one place and allows the project manager to enforce the discipline of knowing ‘if it’s not on the schedule, it will not be worked on.’

This approach also allows the project manager to see the impact of the action items on the schedule.

For instance, let’s say you may have an action item that is 24 hours of work.

If you assign this action item to a person on the critical path, you may see the resulting delay to your project.

This may result in you assigning the action item to someone else instead.