What are Action Items?
An action item can be just about any documented event, task, activity, or action that needs to take place. Action items can be isolated incidental activities, such as an office manager booking a limo to get your client to the airport, or they can be planned activities that belong to a bigger project, such as an architect applying for a construction permit for a building project. The simplistic definition of an action item is that it is an assignment that can be handled by a single person. Its scope depends on the context.
Action items are "born" in a variety of circumstances. In a project context they are often a result of planning, in office management and other support functions, they are likely a result of ad-hoc requirements. During staff meetings they are a result of anything in between.
The use cases for Action Item Manager are virtually unlimited. Let's take a closer look at its features and let you decide what it could do for your organization.
At a glance
The data: Every action item has a name, a team it belongs to, a resource it's assigned to, a priority and a deadline by when it must be completed. Then there are optional fields, including category, 8 custom fields, start date, estimated number of hours of work, and a full-text description. You can also attach certain information to action items. For example, you can upload multiple files and submit time and expense reports. In additon to the assignee, there is also the optional Manager field. Just as assignees are responsible for the completion of any given assignment, managers are responsible for overseeing their direct reports. Managers have certain editing privileges and they are notified about updates to items in their control.
Functionality: Most of AIMs functionality evolves around slicing and dicing this data in real time, making relevant information available for any given task in an intuitive and efficient manner. For example, it takes only one filter from the "Assigned To" drop-down box, to filter the list for items assigned to you. That's 2 clicks: one to open the drop-down, and one to select your name. The same is true for selecting items that you are the manager of. 2 clicks. Grouping the list by Category is as easy as draging the Category field (header) to the front of the list, or by clicking on the column header while holding down the CTRL key. With real-time dashboards you are instantaneously seeing pie charts with time allocations, expenses, item status, available capacity etc.
Below you will find screen shots and a more detailed discusion about individual features. At the end of this page, there is also a link to download user documentation.
To run Action Item Manager you need Microsoft Windows Server 2003 or later, Internet Information Services with Classic ASP enabled, and some form of MS SQL Server (including the Express versions). On the client side you need a web browser that runs Flash Player 9.x or later.
Features in more detail
- Action Item List. In the center of the system is a list of action items. Each item has a name, an optional description, and a deadline. Additional fields describe category, status, client, and project.
In this example we have collapsed the dashboard and item details windows to use the entire screen for the action item list. Please note that the list is grouped by Priority.
- Assignments. Once an item is described it can be assigned to anyone in your team. The assignment can be accompanied with additional instructions. While assigned, the assignee is the temporary owner of the action item, which amongst other things allows him to then forward the assignment to the next person. Assignments, instructions, and any changes are logged for review and audit.
This screen shows the item details form. For each item you have a list of attached files, time reports, expenses, and a log that documents all changes and updates to the item during its lifetime.
- Item Manager. The originator of an action item remains manager of the item, and even while the item is assigned to someone else, the manager can update or add more information. The item manager can also forward this responsibility and make someone else item manager.
- Time Reports. The item manager and all assignees over the lifetime of an action item can record time against the action item. Time reports can be accompanied by progress description and the information is logged for review.
AIM collects 3 values, time budgeted, time reported, and time estimated to completion. This information, if entered, allows you to see where you stand. A healthy item will have the "time planned" value be greater or equal to the "time reported" added to the "time remaining". Accumulated by assignee might tell you something, accumulated by manager might tell you something as well. Accumulated by project is kind of standard.
- File Attachments. Action items can have files attached, often collected while the items travel from on person to the next. This is a great feature, if documents get revised as part of the activity. Files don't get deleted or overwritten, new versions are added as item owners and managers make them available. Files can be accompanied by descriptive information and both are logged for review and download.
- Grouping, Filtering, and Sorting. The action item list can be grouped and / or filtered by any of the following: team, item type, manager, assignee, completion status, status, client, project, custom fields, and importance. The filtered and grouped action list can then be sorted within the groups by any column. The combination of these methods allow for very flexible views of your data, e.g. you could say: For client X, show me grouped by project, all items where John is assigned, sorted by item importance.
This screen shows a list grouped by Category. You can have hierarchical grouping by multiple fields. Simply drag a column to the left of the ID column. Grouped lists provide for special summary dashboards for time, expenses, and capacity.
- Custom Fields. We have provided for 8 custom fields, which can be labeled and pre-populated with field values for your own purposes. For example, for an Agile software development team, you may want to use "Release", "Iteration", and "User Story" as categories. It would allow you to organize your requirements, use cases, development tasks, test cases, bugs and issues, etc. nicely underneath any such custom hierarchy. Other examples would include "branch location", "approval status", "type of work", etc. For classic project management you could use "Client" "Project" "Phase" and "Deliverable".
New in version 7, AIM allows to filter all drop-down fields for multiple values. In this example we are looking for all items managed by either "Anna" or "John" that pertain to "Client Work". The values in Category, Accounting, Billable, Client, Project, and Cost Center are configured in a database table.
- Global Change. If you need to make the same changes to more than one item, you can select multiple items, and edit them in one operation. For example, if you are a manager and are going on vacation, you might want to assign a colleague to manage your items that are coming due before you return to work. To do so, just filter the list by the "Manager" field (you) and the Due Date (deadline smaller than your return date). Then select all items and select another manager in the Manager drop-down. Finally, hit the "Save" button and you are done.
This example shows 3 of Anna's (assignee) items being reassigned to Maria in one operation.
- Dashboards and Summary Views. The dashboard shows a pie chart with one slice per category group. If the item list is grouped by "Category", as in our screen shot, the pie chart shows the amount proportions between different activity types. If the item list is not grouped, the default dashboard shows a "Health Chart", categorized by "Items Due Today", "Items Past Due", "Items Closed", "Items in Progress" (assigned), and "Items Unassigned". Summary views include "Files" across all items, "Weekly Deadline Calendar", "Time", and "Expenses". Charts and summaries are interactive, meaning you can click on an item or a segment in a pie chart to drill down and further filter the item list.
Click on any of the pie segments to filter the list by that sepecific category. Click on "Reset" to undo the drill down filter.
- Group Performance and Capacity Charts. For any group in a grouped list, you can now track actual performance against original budget, both on expenses as well as hours of work. In addition, AIM 7.0 can produce on-the-fly capacity charts, which e.g. can help determine how much additional work can be assigned to an individual or a group of people.
This screen focuses on "John". He has 4 of a total of 18 items assigned to him. Of these 4 items, one is overdue (as seen in the lower left "Health" chart), and his weekly assignments through the end of December are minimal. Until the end of December he has approximately 180 hours of available capacity, based on a 40 hour week.
- Reporting. We provide 3 standard reports for exporting action items, time reports, and expenses into Microsoft Excel. The report generated will use the same filters as you see on screen. A fourth report exports full item details, including change log, assignment history, and the last version of the extra-long item description into a printable HTML format. This last report can also be used on individually selected items.
This report format is useful for paper trail archiving of items. If you have multiple items in your report, AIM will insert an HTML page break for better printing results.
- Daily Digest. Managers and assigned task owners receive a daily email digest of all items coming due. This includes overdue items, items due that day, and items whose deadline is approaching soon.
- Groups, Teams and Permissions. By default every user can only view action items he/she is either manager of or is assigned to. Action Item Manager provides for additional permissions that will allow users of definable user teams to do more, such as view all items, edit all items, view time reports and expenses. You can use Groups for additional, departmental separation of teams and users. Only the System Administrator can access across Groups, all other users remain within their Group.
For more information, please feel free to download the user documentation, order the Evaluation Copy which is fully functional just limited to 3 named user accounts, or send us an email with your questions.
Action Item Manager 7.0 User Guide
(click on PDF icon to download)