Today, United Virtualities’ chief wordsmith and builder of the digital alliance, Morgan Friedman, sparks up a joint discussion with Danielle White, from InterRel, that touches on the following:
☐ The magic of checklists
☐How to approach a project
☐ Minutia tasks
☐ Excel vs Sheets
(… If videos are not for you, and you prefer the written word, we’ve got you covered. Check out the transcript of the interview below. Enjoy!)
Morgan Friedman: Hey everyone! Welcome to the latest edition of Recursive Business, the UV podcast. Today I have a special guest, Danielle White, whose job title I think is Strategic Services Consultant at InterRel. Did I get that right?
Danielle White: You got it; nailed it.
MF: Gold star!
MF: So I’m excited, everyone, about today’s podcast for a particular reason. I was chatting with Danielle before and was telling her about how when I started at UV, long long ago, on day number one, UV had no website, didn’t have anything. I suggested to the partners that the core position should be “We are the checklist guys” – totally vetoed; never happened. But it turns out Danielle is super obsessed with the magic of checklists just like I am. My new bff. So let’s do a deep dive today into checklists. So Danielle I guess let’s start at the high level. Why is it that you think checklists are helpful or useful for you?
DW: I think they just provide structure. At the end of the day you want to have, kind of your beginning middle and end, right? And so a checklist can help you start… if you’re trying to focus and figure out “how am I going to approach this project or task, or whatever?” I just feel that checklists really give you that structure and that foundation to start brainstorming and ensure that you’re going to complete all of the items that are important to you, to make sure that your customer is going to have the experience that you want them to have. And that can be something very minute to something huge. You just want to make sure you incorporate all of those important pieces.
MF: That’s interesting and I agree with that. Checklists are useful in that case of helping in a brainstorm or solve a strategic problem to make sure you don’t miss anything. Are there other cases, other than making sure you don’t miss anything in a brainstorm, where you happen to find checklists particularly useful?
DW: When you have those, I would say kind of minutia tasks, that you… that I incorporate I guess in my checklist, I just find that those… I use them as building blocks, I guess, and a lot of it is, you know, you have kind of one of the segments that I use them for is communicating with a customer. So I set up kind of a timeline/checklist of “here’s how I’m going to communicate with this customer,” and they all build upon each other, right? And if you miss one of those pieces, there, it can cause a disconnect, right? It’s like you started out at this foundational level and then all of a sudden you jumped three steps up, but you didn’t do those layers in the middle. But I feel like when you do those in succession all of a sudden you start… it just builds kind of an innate response from the customer of a buy-in right? They’re like “okay, they really… it’s just reinforcing you know what you’re doing.”
MF: This is all interesting. So when you started, you mentioned the use case of checklist when brainstorming to make sure you don’t miss anything in the brainstorm. This is a different use case of using checklists to track communication in order to make sure it’s not lost. So it lets me know different use cases. This is fun. So do you have like a different checklist per person, per client, that you want to track communication with? How do you do it? I want to learn from the best.
DW: I have a template, right? That starts kind of pre-project , project kickoff, and then post project. So I have… I mean, I have a template that I use but every client’s different, even though there’s a standardized kind of communication, it’s not… It’s really more customized because you don’t want to standardize it too much because then it just becomes very robotic, right? And you don’t have that personal touch with the customer. So while there is a foundational element to it, there’s always pieces that are going to change and one of one of the pieces that I really try and challenge myself with, and the checklist helps me with, is trying to come up with “hey what’s something new that we can do to really just, again, keep the customer engaged, make them feel special, make them feel like we’re giving them the white glove treatment” and really just try and evolve the process, continuing to challenge the process and evolve the process. To where I think when, my very first checklist that I did specific to my role. I mean maybe there were…
MF: I was eight years old and I just made a list of all the toys!
DW: Yeah, back in 1983! But when I started this role, I mean there were very high level tasks; there were not a lot of detailed tasks involved. But as I grew in the position and really grew to understand, kind of what, what could make this… how could we make this a better process, I think I started out – let’s just call it 15 tasks – I mean, I think were, well more, probably 30-40 tasks, because there’s just key elements that I feel that are very crucial to the process, even though if you looked at it on the checklist you might say “If we missed that, no big deal”, I also think they’re important that if… we always kind of say the hit by the bus scenario, right? It’s a very dark statement but there’s also, I think when you’re engaged in a role and you really have a lot of loyalty, to interRel…I would never want, if something were to…you know? Quote unquote “happen to me”, you always want to be able to kind of pass that torch, I guess, and I think that a lot of people have fear in that. That they say “Well if you’re, if it’s so easy and you could just put a checklist together and transition, you know somebody else could just walk into your shoes. Don’t you have some fear from that? Why would you do that? I don’t understand why you do that?” And I actually think it’s the opposite, I think that it provides a lot more value if you can train – I mean it’s a core value of InterRel – If you can train somebody else to do what you’re doing, I think that’s actually one of the highest forms of flattery, I guess, if that makes sense. I don’t see that as an issue at all, I’m more than happy to help train somebody walk into my shoes.
MF: Classic saying, classic observation, that “ Imitation is a form of flattery” but Danielle says “Training is a form of flattery.” So a few minutes ago you used a phrase that I love that I’m going to steal from you and I’ll say every time: “minutia tasks”. Because the devil is in the details and I’m curious to know about your take, about like, how detailed do you get on the really little tasks that you track?
DW: I mean I’m trying to just think of… I mean if it’s as simple as “Upload the presentation to a Google Drive folder,” right? Is that something that you should really have to put on a checklist? Probably not, right? So…
MF: I’ll tell you about one of the ways I use checklists personally, and I’m curious if you do something similar. A challenge I have, in management, is all the time I ask people to do stuff like, email, phone, whatever and it just doesn’t happen.
MF: So I have one checklist which is basically “Everything I’ve ever asked anyone to do” and then the status, and then every day I go back and I revisit “Oh yeah, I sent him this email asking for this a week ago, and he still hasn’t responded.” I think a younger version of myself would have just, like, sent an email to someone, asked for it, and then waited for it to get back, and in the case where he didn’t, two months later “Oh my god! This never happened!”
MF: In other words, to track what I’m waiting on for other people and coming. Do you have a similar use of checklists like that? Everyone uses checklists differently, so it’s okay if you don’t…
DW: Well, I mean…I definitely put, I definitely go through and for each of those tasks, I’ll kind of put a “completed-by” date that I know it needs to be done by, and it’s actually not just my tasks, it is my partner in crime, Joe Altman, that I have his stuff listed as well. So that I know “Okay his needs…” Because sometimes, we’re reliant on each other, right? If he needs to do the first pass of the task then I follow up afterwards. So I kind of go through and that’s the way I… I have no idea if Joe likes this or doesn’t like it. But it’s something that… I mean, I think he actually told me he appreciates it. But right before we even get into the kickoff of the project, I’m going through and putting these deadlines in to just help us keep pace with everything. So that we’re not losing focus and not, again, kind of missing a detail in there. So I do use them. I mean, because there are like, I said there’s north of probably 30 items on these checklists, so it’s very easy, I feel like, to miss one of those, right? So I’m kind of similar, where I’ll go through, probably a couple times a week, and I’ll go through and say, just to remind myself “Okay, have we completed that task? Did we complete that task? I’ll send it off to Joe. Here’s our current status, right? Here’s where we’re at. We’re still on target” or “Hey, I had to revise. You know we didn’t complete this item, so here’s a revised deadline” and you know there’s the domino effect that… where it impacted and here’s our revised timeline so… Does that answer your question?
MF: I think so! Maybe.
MF: Next time we do this we’re both definitely having a glass of wine like you suggested right before they call.
MF: Question: for these checklists, do you use a platform, software, feather pen…
DW: Good old Microsoft Excel. I mean there’s… it’s just kind of been right and true for me…
DW: Because you can… it’s flexible enough that you can use it in a very simplistic way, because you know, some people have experience with Excel, some people don’t, but even I feel the most novice users, you send them an Excel Spreadsheet and they can figure it out, right? There are just some phenomenal Excel users in our company that, I mean, would blow your mind with some of the formulas that they write. I mean, that’s part of our business, but I consider myself maybe like a high level, you know, novice person. Even though Edward will be sweet and be like “No you’re really good at writing formulas”, I know he’s just being nice, but yeah, I think Excel just provides you the spectrum of who you might be interacting with and providing those checklists to. And they have the autonomy to kind of, you know, if they wanna, if they see it kind of in a different way or want to add something, that tool I think just gives you a lot of flexibility.
MF: Yeah, very tried and true. Can’t really go wrong with Excel. I happen to prefer Google Sheets, even though I still call it Excel but I mean Google Sheets. Is easily shareable…
DW: Yes, I do use those if it’s somebody, like for my own personal, just things that I’m probably gonna look at, I use Excel but you’re right, I do leverage Google Sheets if I need a real-time document and people are going to be making changes, or I know they’re going to be a lot of consistent changes to it, I will leverage Google Sheets. I think that’s a really good platform too.
MF: And within using, within checklists, do you… are there any… so we discussed a few uses for this: is for brainstorming, there’s the use for the when you set up the project to make sure everything falls through, there’s communication tracking. Any other uses, classes, types of checklists that you use, that you think are worthy of, worthy of mentioning?
DW: I mean it has carried over into my personal life that I use them for my kids’ soccer teams, for their… I do a lot of their event planning, when we do travel tournaments. So soccer parents think I’m insane, but it’s fun. Spreadsheets are fun.
MF: I think it’s a definite competitive advantage in life to think that spreadsheets are fun. So that’s awesome. I personally keep a bunch of checklists of best practices for situations that I tend to be in, so often things happen, mistakes happen, things go wrong and I often tell people I don’t mind making mistakes, I just never want to make the same mistake more than once, and part of that is ”Okay, email best practices” So I’ll create a checklist of the best practices and I occasionally revisit all of my different checklists of the best practices.
DW: That’s awesome, I mean, I do not do any of “The best…” but I like that, I’m gonna steal it from you because I like that idea!
MF: By the way, actually, I tend to use Google Sheets for like the more formal stuff, and, and the ones I want to share with people, but for my personal checklist I happen to use this amazing tool called Quip, that coincidentally, Salesforce bought a couple years ago, and they just kind of like let it hang out there and not do anything with it, and it’s just amazing. Quip, I often characterize it as Google Docs done right, because they just have like, apps for your Mac and your phone, and it’s, like, lightning fast, it keeps everything locally, super easy, cool, modern UI, yeah! It’s the sort of thing that… yeah… they bought them for a gazillion dollars before they caught on, so there’s this amazing technology, but Salesforce hasn’t done… but what I like about it: it’s so easy to just open it and go to the right file, add the list on my phone, on my computer, auto sync everywhere, like, so much faster than Excel or Google Drive.
DW: Yeah, that’s cool! Huh and it’s not… you don’t have to be a Salesforce user, it’s just a Salesforce company?
MF: Correct, yeah it’s completely free, it was like some free cool hipster.com. Maybe four years ago it was bought, so they’ll probably integrate it into everything at some point.
DW: Yeah, yeah.
MF: So I’m trying to think if there is any interesting best practice. A bunch of my favorite personal best practice checklists, are a lot of my management tips. Like things that I figured out about what works well. Question: at interRel, is it common to use shared checklists? Like what I would, something I often do at UV, on Google Docs, I’ll just like “pending tasks” and these different ones, and it’s a file in our shared Google folder, so everyone can see it, the status of everything and where it goes, or there’s… Do you guys use a shared checklist system or not so much?
DW: No, we do Google Sheets in my, again kind of in my role, we don’t too much, but I can tell you, in my previous role for a lot of event planning, like, we have our Eddie Awards tonight, right, which is our company awards, our annual company awards program. There was always kind of a team of us that did those events, so having that accessibility through Google Sheets and tracking kind of “Okay here’s the progress” where you know everyone had their assigned tasks. You could just login and be like “okay”, it was just a great way to see somebody’s progress or see even just the, you know, quote-unquote “projects progress” you know.
MF: By the way, I totally didn’t expect to talk about checklists but, as you can see, I have a lot to say about it. Here’s another way I use checklists that’s interesting: it’s also one of my favorite sales tools when I sell, which is, I often frame it like this “Okay you want to do X” – whatever, build an ecommerce website, “I’ve been doing it forever and we have been keeping a list of all the things that go wrong all the time, and this is exactly what we obsess over. Now let me just read through a couple of the items on the list.” And I always choose the ones that are like “Oh, I never thought of that,” “Oh, I never thought of that,”, “I never thought of that,” because if your checklist has subtle, not obvious, things that the other people…it’s like it shows that you’ve thought the little details and that you’re really organized. And who do you want to hire? The people that are subtle and well organized, etc.…
DW: Yeah, yeah. Morgan, I feel like you’ve already surpassed the checklist king.
MF: I just got so excited when you said you were really into checklists, I’m like “Finally!” Everyone seems like I’m so annoying on this stuff, I have no one to discuss it with so…
DW: It’s like, feel like sometimes I’m a little bit on an island with, you know, like “Really, like, did you really need a checklist for that?” And like, when don’t you need a checklist? I mean honestly it helps you in all aspects of your life.
MF: Sometimes I think that a little bit of organization goes a massively long way, and checklists are just a really good example, like, anyone can just open a Google Doc and just, like, go and just write the list – you have to start somewhere – and just that little act, suddenly things start becoming structured, other people can see it, you can then add more complexity to it that… you can then go back and you, go back and follow its progress. That tiny little bit of structure goes a massive way.
DW: Absolutely, agreed. 100% agree.
MF: This is the only podcast interview I’ve done, where I’ve done more talking than the occasional “hey, question” so, I’m sorry to hijack it, but I think there are a lot of interesting points that came up.
DW: No, I appreciated our conversation. It’s like we said, it’s fun to discover a fellow checklist groupie, fan, fangirl, fanboy.
MF: We can start like a UV-iterRel checklist club.
DW: That’s right! Join in on Wednesdays at 1.
MF: Only after everyone’s had some wine. Wednesdays at one o’clock, drunk.
DW: That’s right!
MF: Danielle, this has been fun and enlightening, and thank you for coming on and next time maybe we can deep dive into some specific checklists.
DW: Sounds great, I look forward to it!
MF: Thank you everyone for watching.
DW: Thank you!