Why Use the 3W Rule for Action Items?

Nancy B. Alston

How many meetings seem to generate good ideas, accomplish valuable problem solving, or make the right decision? If these meetings are producing the desired results during the time people are together, why is so little getting done afterwards? The problem with follow-through from a meeting is most likely due to poor assignment of action items. To resolve the action issue, use the 3W rule for assigning actions. The 3 W’s stand for What, Who, and When questions.

What is the action to do? Understand what needs to be done and why it is important to the project or team. This means taking responsibility for carrying out meeting work. In wording the action item, be sure to use action verbs and be prepared to provide some detail on what is actually necessary to consider the action correctly completed. Then assignment of the action with a due date becomes easier.

Who will do the action? The action must be given to someone or it will not get done. This is a team or project member agreeing to be reliable for activities required to carry out assigned tasks. The action can be assigned to the best qualified person or someone in the meeting may volunteer to do the action. If the action is assigned to someone outside the meeting, someone in the meeting needs to take an action to explain it to the person who is assigned the action.

When is the action due? The due date is an actual calendar date when the action must be completed by for the team or project to accomplish their work. This equates to being accountable for doing outside meeting tasks. By assigning a date, the person taking the action will be able to schedule the new task with their other work and be able to determine if there may be reasons why the action may not be completed by desired date.

Proper assignment of the what, who, and when from the 3W rule will reduce the problem related to follow-through outside of meetings. Now the meetings can not only produce the desired results during attendance, but afterwards as well since more actions will get done. Better action assignment will aid in testing good ideas and solutions to problems, as well as implementing any decisions that are made.

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