Last summer I wrote a series of articles on simple tools you can use to manage allelements of a project. The RAID log records risks, actions, issues and decisions. One of the comments to that series was this:
Great article series on the RAID approach. It would also be useful to see your thoughts on rules/guidance for filling out Actions Log. For example, are actions broken down until they are owned by one person? Or is it OK to leave the action as an overarching action/group of actions which is owned by a team manager and they are responsible for breaking it down or managing it in their own action log?
How to take and make the most of action logs?
I've recently worked on a large project where there were differing views. Personally, I would go with the first approach i.e. break them down until they are owned by one person. In my view, the second approach could be risky, especially if these actions are dependencies for the main project.
While there are a number of options regarding how to record action items, I subscribe to this commenter's way of recording actions. Personally, I break down actions to the constituent parts so that only one person is responsible. If I don't, I worry that the action will never get done, or that the team member who receives instruction about the action second-hand does not clearly understand what is required. This creates the risk that the action actually taken doesn't really relate to the action you were expecting.
I think the value in action logs is being able to follow up and have confidence that tasks have been done. While individuals can write down their own actions after a meeting, if you have no level of comfort that the task is done, or you just don't know, then this can slow down the project.
Having said that, I have worked on large projects where each individual workstream lead had their own action log. At a project level, I kept a summary action log for the major tasks (the ones that were escalated to me, just as the workstream leads also escalated major risks and issues).
I also recorded even detailed actions if these were raised in project-level meetings. Anything that was raised at a workstream level meeting and that the workstream leads didn't consider significant enough for my attention was kept on their own logs.
What to consider when using action logs?
Action logs are no different from tasks on a project plan. If you use Seavus Project Viewer to look at your plans, or another tool, you would expect to see a named resource for each activity. But you may have sub-plans with more detail in held by a workstream lead. Why do something different on what is essentially a different type of task list?
The other thing to bear in mind with recording action owners is that the person who owns the action could change. For example, say there is an action to produce a template report for Marketing. The person who is the best place to do this activity is not in the meeting. Don't write them down and expect them to own an action they had no discussion about. The owner for that action directly after the meeting should be the person who is going to brief the person who will do the task.
So if Mary is at the meeting but John is not, and John is the person who will complete the task, the action is written down with Mary as the owner. Mary briefs John, who then becomes the owner for that task.