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Who | What | When Matrix

Many meetings end with a “next steps” or “action items” discussion. These discussions are often abstract, starting with a list of tasks that are then handed out to possibly unwilling participants with no particular deadline attached. By focusing the discussion on a Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions on tasks and a commitment on when they will complete the task.

  1. Step 1:

    Step 1.

    On a flip chart or whiteboard, create a matrix that outlines WHO | WHAT | WHEN

  2. Step 2:

    Step 2.

    Although instincts may be to start with the “WHAT” (the tasks and items that need to be done), this approach starts with the “WHO” (the people who will be taking the actions). Put every participant’s name into the matrix in this column.

  3. Step 3:

    Step 3.

    Ask each participant what concrete next steps they can commit to. Place this in the WHAT column. Each participant may have a number of next steps that he thinks are required or feels strongly about. For each item, ask that person “WHEN” he will have the item done.

  4. Step 4:

    Step 4.

    Actions don’t take themselves, and people don’t commit as strongly to actions as they do to each other. By approaching next steps “people-first,” a few things change. First, it becomes clear that the people in the room are the ones who are accountable for next steps. Second, by making commitments in front of their peers, participants stake their credibility on taking action, and are more likely to follow through. And third, it becomes clear WHO is going to do WHAT by WHEN—and who has volunteered little or no commitment.

  5. Step 5:


    In completing the Who|What|When matrix, you are likely to find that there is a lot to do. This is a good time to ask if there is any way for participants who have committed to little or nothing to step up their contribution. They may be able to assist others in completing their tasks—or their attendance may have been unnecessary.

    Although participants are more likely to commit to actions they declare in front of the group, ultimately you are accountable for following up with them after the meeting. You may ask participants to email you their commitments, and you may send the group the full list as an update.