Action Map with goal top right

How to note and record an Action Mapping session

Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping is a great way of capturing the performance needs at the start of any kind of training project. On paper it looks like a neat, colourful mind-map, but should you strive to keep it that visual as you go through it in the messy real world? Here’s one example from my experience.

Last week I had the pleasure of doing a two-hander series of Action Mapping sessions with Howie Pearson of Learning Rapid  for one of his clients, a retail business.

The client had commissioned a large suite of courses from Howie, and wanted to start each one with an Action Map in order to be sure they would make the best use of elearning and other media. They were willing to accept that the outcome for some might not be learning material at all. In fact that did happen for one or two.

My thoughts on getting you involved were not only for your expertise but for the volume of courses involved and to achieve buy in from the SME’s, which I felt we comfortably achieved. Bringing you in as an expert and as someone they didn’t know gave them comfort in the process. (Howie)

Do Stages 1-3 in one session

We tried to complete the first three stages of each in a session. These are:

  1. agree the success criteria in terms the business already measures
  2. list the actions the audience has to perform at work to improve this measure
  3. list the any reasons for failure, poor performance or difficulty for each of these actions

In most cases this took us about 90m; some were quicker, some went over two hours. We decided to do these then return to stages 4 and 5 later.  Stages 4 and 5 are:

  1. Specify practice activities for each action in (2)
  2. Specify the minimum content that needs to be provided for the practice activities

These need a different mindset from the first three. The first three are analytical and critical. Stage 4 in particular needs a bit of relaxation, a bit of acceptance of uncertainty – it’s creative.


There are many ways of capturing an Action Mapping session. I’ve talked elsewhere about using flipcharts and using mind map software and a projector. At these meetings we didn’t have flipcharts.  What we had was:

  • a dry-wipe whiteboard
  • a projector
  • laptops

At first we thought we might have one of us building a visual Action Map in PowerPoint or some mind-mapping software as the other one facilitated. But with as many as five stakeholders with us in some sessions I wanted us both to be listening and engaged, not preoccupied with getting arrows going the right way or text and background colour combinations. Having one person leading the discussion and scribbling on a whiteboard and the other chipping in to probe and clarify seemed the best use of our attention. It helped to maintain the energy. Howie was able to support and add to my questions rather than leaving me to feel the responsibility of pulling it all together.

Before stage 1

The first things that went on the whiteboard were

  • the provisional title/main topic
  • the target audience

We then had an open discussion of the kind of things the company would measure which would tell it if things were going well or not going well in this area.

Stage 1 – the formula

When we had a couple I would put up this formula:

…………..  will increase/decrease by ………  by the end of ……., as <target audience word> <general topic word>

For example (from a different client):

The charity will place 10% more clients in supported accommodation by the end of 2018, and demonstrate success in its defined purpose,  as Trustees demonstrate confidence in carrying out their duties and in monitoring performance.

Once we’d had the discussion it was easy to add the correct words to the formula.  That was one benefit of dry-wipe pens!

Transition to Stage 2

We now had a formula written in red in the centre of the whiteboard. We could have followed the visual map-like approach you see in Cathy Moore’s diagrams, but those are simplified and created after the fact. In reality, it’s a lot messier and you need lots of room to add and change things. We had to create space. We used two different approaches in different sessions:

  1. copying the formula, in smaller writing to the top right of the whiteboard
  2. replacing the formula with a red dot in the middle of the screen

(2) gives you more space, (1) has the advantage of leaving the formula there as a ‘reality check’.

Before wiping the board, however, Howie took photos of the formula and audience.

Stage 2

We now wrote the actions the target audience do in their working day which have a bearing on the measure. Trying to keep some sort of visual flow, we arranged these radiating out from either the target at the top right or the red dot in the middle. We wrote them in green.

Stage 3

In Stage 3 we discussed the barriers to performance – why people didn’t always do these thing well, or why they were difficult to achieve. Although I didn’t always spell it out, I was looking for issues pointing to knowledge, skill, attitude and the environment. These I put in black grouped round the action affected. With some Maps it got quite crowded at this point, were we had a lot of actions and a lot of barriers. But mostly it worked and we could see a flow from the business measure target to the actions to the barriers.

At this point Howie took photos and we went for much-desired tea and coffee.

Using the technology available

So that’s how we did it with what we had. Later, where we wanted to refer to the Stage 2 and 3 maps we used one stakeholder’s laptop to project Howie’s photos at the other end of the room. If we’d been using paper flipcharts they would have been stuck to the wall – with Blu Tack if no rails exist. That can be unpopular but in a training room, it’s necessary!


Action Map with goal top right Action Map with goal in centre


Action Mapping five stagesIn my early days of Action Mapping I tried to keep to Cathy’s visual layout which is very neat and appealing but I’ve realised that’s a summary for later reference, not a working document. Somehow the physical activity of moving around a whiteboard or even a flipchart beats that hands-down for engagement.

Another approach


Er, what’s Action Mapping?

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