Episode #10 – Improving an Organization with GTD

In this podcast interview, Mike Williams chats with Bob Hendriksen, plant manager for Steelcase, about Bob’s GTD practice, how the methodology is becoming a key part of the culture of his company, navigating the Weekly Review when you get interrupted, and more.

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Podcast Transcript

MIKE WILLIAMS: Hello everybody. Mike Williams here, back with another GTD Slice Of Life and today I am joined by Bob Hendriksen of Steelcase and Bob and I met oh a couple months ago now when David Allen and I went to Steelcase and had a tour. David did an event and I walked away just thinking, “Wow! Bob you’ve got a lot of really cool stuff going on there and this would be a wonderful conversation to bring to the GTD community.
So what we’d like to do here today is just have a Slice of Life conversation and explore what’s going on in your world. So as we set the context for this, Bob, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are, what’s your position, anything else you’d like to share in that domain?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Thanks Mike. Well, I’m 45 years old and I’ve worked with Steelcase for 27 years, so I started right out of high school and I’ve got three amazing kids, two 17 year-olds and a 12 year-old and uh working on getting them into using GTD.
What I do here at Steelcase is I’m in charge of one of our factories, so we’ve got five factories around North America and others around the world and the one that I’m responsible for makes file cabinets and desks and various other forms of office furniture.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Wonderful, and uh just for context, I have a 17 year-old and I have a 13 year-old, a daughter and a son. Are your 17 year-olds seniors – gonna be seniors this year?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Yeah, one a senior and one we adopted from Russia …
BOB HENDRIKSEN: … five years ago. He’s gonna be a junior.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Good, good. So you’re in that senior year transition stage as well. Maybe we can play with that towards the end or something.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Yeah, two girls and a boy on my side.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Two girls and a boy, okay.
And let’s just jump right in, because one of the things that really caught my attention when I was at Steelcase was your role as a Lean Leader, uh and in some of the TQM stuff that you’ve done, Total Quality Management stuff that you’ve done in the past and I always love connecting with people in that community and how does GTD look through that lens. So as part of the context for that conversation, I just want to carve that out as a big bucket we’d like to pursue, but before we jump really into that, how the heck did you even find GTD? When and where – what was ground zero for you, you know; where were you in your career and how did you intersect with David Allen’s work?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Well I had been interested in this type of thing as a young leader and getting very, very busy with work responsibilities and such and I had read a book called The Ten Natural Laws of Time and Life Management, I think it was called by Hyrum Smith and I was a Franklin Planner user, but I kind of outgrew it and as my responsibilities increased, you know, A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, wasn’t cutting it anymore and then a good friend of mine, a guy named Rush Sharda, who – one of the most brilliant people I know said, “You gotta read this! This – this guy’s figured it out.”
And I said, “Figured what out?”
He said, “Life! Everything!”
I said, “Wow!” and uh like I said, I really respected his opinion and so I read it. I was like, “Wow! This is really practical and usable.” So I went about trying to make changes to my system and really thought I was following it for a number of years and then about uh five years ago, our HR guy asked me to teach my quirky system to our staff – to my team. And I said, “They don’t need that. They’ve all got their own way of accomplishing things and they don’t seem to be particularly stressed.”
And he said, “Oh, they’ve got you fooled Bob. They’re just hiding it well. So why don’t you go ahead and teach it?”
Well before I did that, I re-read the book for the second time and realized I had missed 80 or 90% of it the first time through and so really started trying to apply all of it in earnest and then shared it with my team and it was tremendously beneficial to them and been a huge advocate and tell everybody about it. I’ve put the book in more people’s hands than I even know …
BOB HENDRIKSEN: … or even remember.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Oh that’s great. I remember saying the same exact words when I read David’s book for the first time. I walked upstairs and said to my wife, “This guy’s got it figured out! This guy’s got it figured out!”
MIKE WILLIAMS: Everything, you know, all the stuff and I think I scared her away for like three years because I was so enthusiastic about what I had just read. And then I was working at General Electric at the time. Then I went back to my office and the next two days I just put everything in the in-box and processed it into the new system and started my practice from that day forward, but I specifically remembering this guy is gonna help me clear out the runway level stuff that’s been clogging me up.
And then the other thing you mentioned too is it sounded like at that point in your career, because you did such a great job beforehand, you got rewarded with more work and then just going back to the personal side of your life, it sounds like you had kids and it got more complex, so …
BOB HENRIKSEN: Absolutely.
MIKE WILLAIMS: … you needed something right? And I’ve had multiple GTD implementers say that as they read the book once and then once they read it again it’s a whole different book for them. It’s a full context for it.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Ha, ha, oh absolutely! I think I’ve read it about five times now and I get more out of it every time.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Yeah, yeah, no …
BOB HENRIKSEN: The same thing with Making it All Work. The first time I reads it I maybe wasn’t ready with my practices at that point and then went back and re-read that as well and it opened up, you know, the whole perspective side really, where I had been very focused on the control side of GTD, even though he talks about it with the Horizons of Focus and The Natural Planning Model and everything in the first book, just expanding on it in Making it All Work, really helpful.
MIKE WILLIAMS: That’s great. I love the in between book too, Ready for Anything. Have you read that book?
BOB HENRIKSEN: Oh yes, with all the quotes and yeah – super.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Oh and the stories, uh I’m heading out to Chicago next week to teach our level II training, which is Projects and Priorities and we focus on Areas of Focus, we focus on Natural Planning Model, we focus on stalking the wild projects that may not be on your project list yet. So between those two books, gaining that higher level of perspective and the next version of your GTD game, it gets really exciting. So I’m excited to be …
MIKE WILLIAMS: … going out there for that. Um, let’s – okay I’m gonna shift gears here a little bit. Now I’d love to, I’m reflecting back and I’m walking back into your facility and one of the things that I notice when I was – uh when you were giving us our tour was, first of all we walked in your office and then I started seeing all this really cool ambient information, reminders about the GTD work flow. I think you had the work flow map up in your office as a reminder. You definitely had your cockpit set up with your in-box and such. So that was your personal space and then I remember walking into what I believe you called The Nerve Center. And The Nerve Center, for folks on the podcast, is this beautiful wooden table, kind of oval table and then on the outside of the – the walls is all this wonderful ambient information that I’d like to explore with you, but right in the middle of the table, etched in the table is, “What’s your desired outcome? What’s your next action?”
And when David and I saw that, we’re like, “How cool is that?”
So, let’s start exploring here. So tell us a little bit about – I’d like to go to the team aspect of GTD and I’d also like to explore the Lean aspect of GTD. What would you like to start with first?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Let’s go with Lean I guess.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Okay, so you’re an experienced Lean Leader. One of the things that we found is there’s a lot of GTD passion within the Lean community. So what does GTD look like and if you were to process it through the Lean lens, what are some things that pop to mind for you?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: So Lean is a methodology developed by the Toyota Motor Corporation largely to process improvement approach to increasing value through the eyes of the customers where they start the discussion. And it was developed over years and years at Toyota and then some researchers at MIT discovered it and coined the term Lean, but it’s all about you know, increasing value and doing more with less, more efficiently, higher quality, more employee engagement, that’s what Lean is kind of all about and we had worked with other process improvement approaches at Steelcase through our whole existence. We’re a what’s called a Make to Order company, so we don’t make anything to stock like most companies do, which is a Lean approach to not having as much inventory because we make everything once we get an order from customer.
But in the early 2000’s, we really started gaining traction on applying the Toyota principles in house. And there’s really the production, industrial engineering side of Lean. The other side needs to complement it for it to sustain and continue to grow is uh what’s called the Lean Management System side of it.
So we went about building this Lean Management System internally to help us you know, understand our performance, understand where our performance wasn’t what we wanted it to be, understand the causes, and drive action to improve.
Well eventually it became obvious as we learned more about and we had more years of GTD, to integrate the two.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Great. And what are the major categories within Lean. Aren’t there like six or seven buckets of waste or something like that?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Yeah, there’s seven forms of waste, like inventory and waiting and over-production are some of them.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Okay. And uh …
BOB HENDRIKSEN: And you kind of eliminate those.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Uh and this – in the mental construct when we’re thinking about all the stuff on our mind and over-thinking things and under-thinking things and that’s where I see sometimes some connection between the Lead principles and the GTD principles come into alignment on reducing the thinking waste.
Have you found, as you personally introduce GTD and reflect on things like that, where do you find some of the pain points that you had before and how has GTD helped simplify and bring efficiency into your personal life?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Well back on your point about, you know, the elimination of waste, the main way in Lead that you eliminate waste is by improving the flow.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: So GTD and you know the processing steps and the five phases are all about improving mental processing flow, right?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: A huge parallel there.
MIKE WILLIAMS: If you go back to before GTD and then you found the book, there’s probably some sticking points or – that you may or may not have been aware of and now that you’ve been an enthusiast for a period of time, I’m wondering if you have any kind of before or after scenarios of, “Oh I had this pain point and this came in and helped me with that”, or “I didn’t realize I had this pain point and GTD came in and eliminated it and helped me with that”.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Sure. I mean the biggest before and after and really in my progression with GTD, I started using it to gain greater productivity, so I could get more done in less time and you know, achieve the goals that the company has set and so on and so forth.
The big benefit though in using this over time is the freedom that it brings, the clear space and what I’m able to do with that space because I’m not bogged down by trying to remember to follow-up on things in a busy – a busy job and a busy life outside of work.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Yeah. So let me go down just a little deeper in the rabbit trail here because I – I seem to recall like if you’re driving home and something’s on your mind, boom what’s your work flow?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Sure. So I try to not keep anything on my mind. In fact my mind sweep and my weekly review is a pretty quick process, ‘cause I try to dump as I go. So I use a list manager called Wunderlist and it’s a – it’s a German software app, in the Cloud, runs on – on the web, on all my IOS devices. It’s ubiquitous, always on me, always synced up. So I can use Siri on my IPhone and throw things right into Wunderlist In. I basically e-mail in, without ever looking at my phone or anything, so very easy to capture on any device that’s at hand.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Oh good and then when do you come back and take what you’ve captured and bring it to the next step? Do you do that at home or do you generally have some processing time at work, or all the above?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Yeah, I process a few times throughout the day and try and get all three of my main in-boxes to zero; e-mail, my Wunderlist in-box and anything that might be in my red folder that I carry around in my bag, but I do a lot of capture on my phone or my IPad or whatever, but I do almost all my processing on the computer. I just found it’s quicker, I can drag and drop things a little bit easier than I can on other devices.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Yeah, I’ve uh – Bryan Palmer who is another In-Conversation Slice of Life conversation that we had was very similar. He found that you know, just trying to use that mobile screen was just too limiting on that and then processing happened in the cockpit and it was much faster and more efficient. Cool.
So now let’s go back to, I want to pick up the thread at improving flow. Love the evolution of just productivity pick-up, as David has always mentioned, it’s like layers of an onion and then going back to it, “Wow! Freedom and clear space!” tasting that’s pretty interesting.
Let’s jump over to the team side of this real quickly. So how has GTD influenced the team that you’re responsible for; how have you introduced that and how has it improved the team flow?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Oh significantly, significantly! So what we did is we – we all read the book, of course, and then we just set up some discussions as a team. So our team, at our factory here, is made – our leadership team is, you know, the manager of engineering, the manager of materials management and so on and so forth. All the functions that are required to run this plant. The plant’s got about 900 employees and we make about – oh about 8,000 pieces of furniture a day. So it’s a staff of 23 or so manager positions.
So we each read the book, had these discussions to get on the same page and then one of the key things we did and I was a little hesitant to do this, because I never want to force a tool, but like I said, my personal list manager is this Wunderlist software, we found that it had this shared list capability and so that was tremendously powerful for us.
So about two years ago we kind of landed on that and we all started trying to adopt it as our own personal list manager but then as you saw in our team space, our nerve center, we also have a large touch screen where we display the shared lists, the project lists and the next actions list where we come back to any items that are significant to the team. So what I mean by that is often in a meeting or when we’re out on the factory floor, they’ll be a follow-up and if it’s kind of a one-off and someone has a trusted system, it’ll just go into their own Wunderlist to be followed up on. But things that impact multiple stake-holders and is just good for all of us to know what was done to maybe correct a problem or go after an opportunity or whatever, we put on the shared list and then in our daily stand-up we follow-up on those things to see what got done. We’re able to assign owners and dates and it’s just really streamlined how we operate. It makes things very clear.
You know, one of the things that was interesting about that was clarity around what “done” means. So in this team environment when someone is you know going to the board and saying, “I did this and I did this …” we kind of do a check in as a team and say, you know, “Do we agree that that’s complete, that that’s done?” And sometimes we’ll say, “Nah, there’s more to do here”, or “Yeah, it’s done” and go in that box, scream make the noise, a ding sound and everybody claps and we try to make if fun getting things done.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Yeah, David and I had a chance to stand around a table and watch you all, you know, run a meeting and in this context, how many people do you have standing around that table? You must have like fifteen.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Yeah, it’s 20 to 23.
MIKE WILLIAMS: 20 to 23 people standing around this table. What do you call that session that we witnessed where everybody’s just going around giving a status update; what’s the name for that?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Yeah, we call it our staff exchange.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Staff exchange. And how much time did you have allocated to that?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: It takes between 15 and 20 minutes.
MIKE WILLIAMS: That was amazing. I mean about 20 people giving an update in about 15 to 20 minutes. This thing was so dialed in. It was absolutely amazing and a piece of art from my perspective. So I just wanted to acknowledge that. I was really excited to see that.
The other thing I noticed though, what enabled the very crisp, clean updates from your perspective? Is there anything like in the GTD, like outcome/action thinking and what you have there in the middle of the table that helped you just really say, “Okay, here’s what we want to communicate and here is some of the ground rules”?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Oh, absolutely! It’s all about defining desired outcomes, if there’s something in our world that we don’t like the way it is, something bad happened or something isn’t the way we want we want it, then we define the desired outcome and we decided very finitely, very granularly, what is the next step to get moving towards it? And when we take the time to get the clarity around that, that’s what makes everything move crisp.
In fact, when things get stalled we’ll often have to go back to, “We’ve got more thinking to do to get this moving again.”
Now, so having the individual team members understand GTD and start to practice GTD and then seeing it at the team level collectively, I’m wondering what kind of feedback – what have others reflected back at you with a before and after kind of scenario sense of what GTD’s brought into their personal life or what they’ve experienced at the team level?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Well, feedback we get from others outside of our plant is you know, we need to teach this, share this with other areas of Steelcase operations which we’re doing. North America is following it very well.
MIKE WILLIAMS: And what are people specifically drawn to, what are they seeing that say, “Hey, we need to duplicate this!” – why, why are they even seeing this?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: They’re seeing fun, they’re seeing action and proven in the metrics is the key thing, right? So you can have whatever methodology or philosophy but if it’s not moving the needle, so that – that’s the bottom line and when they see steady – you know we measure ourselves against safety, quality, on-time delivery, cost and as you saw in our room, we make those metrics very visual, very easy to understand and so if you can make a connection between the actions people are taking and improvement in the performance then you want to applicate and scale that up. So that’s what’s going on.
Now what about at like an individual team member sense when you have a one-on-one with a team member and you’re just talking about their own personal performance, any kind of before or after sense that you’re seeing with particular team members or any particular stories that you just say, “Wow! That was cool!”?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Yeah, I’ve seen transformation after transformation in individuals and how they work and the clarity of our discussions, so each of us have you know, a set of one-on-one lists in our list manager and so we’re able to share those as well which is also a huge way to cut down on e-mail because if I know I have a one-on-one with Mike later this week, instead of going back and forth on e-mail, I can just throw it over into Wunderlist and both of us will see that it’s in there and kind of queue it up for discussion.
MIKE WILLIAMS: So stepping back a little bit, kind of going back up to the higher level, maybe I can borrow your Lean brain here for a second. If you were to design a hypothesis or a measurement system to say, “Here’s the pragmatic value that GTD has brought, an increase in this, a decrease in that …” what kind of things come to mind for you, if you try to frame it within that perspective?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: A big increase in clarity, clarity around what we’re trying to accomplish, clarity around the actions that we’re choosing to take to achieve the goals and vision that we have for our operation. And so having it all kind of laid out in front of us so we can decide we’re gonna do that, we’re not gonna do that – I’d just say way better clarity.
Anything else?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Well I think what you experienced when you were with us is a whole lot more fun. It’s very enjoyable to work around people who are – and I’m blessed with the greatest group of people I could ever ask for to work with, our team is amazing and they gravitated to this so naturally. For one, they’re all pretty – they can see a good process when it’s laid out, especially as in operations and I work quite closely with IT and our IT group as well really resonated with and other groups all over the company, but yeah, it’s just helped us – yeah, get clear and progress easily and have a lot more fun at work.
Now one of the things that I find interesting, ‘cause sometimes when people ask me about, “Okay, what’s the value or the measurable outcome of GTD?” it kind of starts to your point earlier where, okay, you know level one, you’ll have a little productivity pick-up. You’ll pick-up some time, you’ll shave off time on doing e-mails, you’ll get clear and things like that. But the second level of the onion goes towards the value of what you’re cranking off your project list and the economic value – it’s hard for me to answer their question without knowing the economic value of what is on that project list.
So one of the things that I’m reminded of when I went to your site was how life can throw you a curve ball and how you’re gonna deal with it. So I think at the time I was there, the ports on the West Coast were clogged up and there was a longshoremen strike happening and you had some castors that you had to get on your product in order to get it out the door to hit a customer deliverable. So that was your curve ball that was thrown at you and watching that get operationalized onto a project list, nailed down to a next action and having a waiting for for the air shipment to drop, (I’m not sure I’m using the right terms) but that was reality in action. And I was thinking to myself at the time, “Hmm, I wonder what the economic value of that one project brings to a team like this to hit a customer’s deliverable?” I’m sure you see that in spades.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Oh all the time, yeah. Our business is – like I said, the fact that we’ll make the order with short customer lead times makes our business model very dynamic, you know – seasonal and we got all these priority agreements with certain customers and then you have things like the port strike and other interesting things that are going on in the world that affect the plan basically. So you can make you know, a very good plan and then it goes out the window sometimes very quickly so our ability to come together, decide what we’re gonna do, who’s gonna do it, and then follow-up relentlessly to make sure – like the port issue didn’t impact our customers one bit and you know, that was significant and could have, and what you experienced in our little 15 minute stand-up was one element of us sorting through that issue, you know but there were obviously many other actions and owners and due dates and follow-up, follow-up, follow-up …
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Smooth as possible anyway.
MIKE WILLIAMS: That was just – you know, it’s just wonderful to experience that and when I close the door and do executive coaching with folks and see some of the stuff that gets cleared off their project list, the economic value of any one of those items or the ability to put one more on, in some instances, the ability to say, “No” faster creates space for the next one to come on.
And going back to the theme of clarity that comes from reducing waste in the system from a Lean perspective is what I experience over and over again.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Let’s shift gears here just a little then. The other thing I recall walking around and seeing your team is they have a little orange sticker on the corner of their name tag and what did that little orange sticker say?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Yeah, it says, “Ask me about GTD”.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Ha, ha! Tell me the story about the sticker. I was – when I saw that I’m like, “Of course, that’s a thing of beauty!” Then the second thing was, “Tell me more! How does that come to be? What’s that all about?”
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Yeah so a few years ago one of our brainiacs in IT Jim Horbath and I were chatting about things and we both, we found this common interest where I was a big fan of GTD, as was Jim. We found a few others and started this little make-shift hearing team, endorsing team, whatever you want to call it and we just started thinking about ways that we could spread it through the organization. We had this movement going and obviously your visit with David and David’s keynote was a huge catalyst for continuing to spread, but yeah, the sticker was just an idea that somebody on the core team came up with. In fact, someone asked me yesterday, you know, “What does that mean? What’s GTD?” and it allowed me to – she opened the door to a conversation about it.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Oh nice. And when you have a conversation with somebody about GTD, let’s use one that you had yesterday. One of the common themes and questions is how do you introduce people to GTD? How do you personally engage in a conversation like that?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: So I’ll explain it as you know, it’s a life management system. It’s an approach that was developed by this David Allen guy over many years of working with various busy people and he kind of knitted it together into a systematic approach that you use for your whole life. So I basically run my life at work and at home on the same system.
It starts by getting everything out of your head, capturing it into a system you trust, clarifying what it means, what outcomes you want, what actions you need to move towards those outcomes and then you just basically track it in a way that make it really easy to bump into the right things at the right time. And the outcome is freedom, freedom to enjoy your time and be in the moment.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Yeah. Well, well said and uh you know on the freedom side of things, you know one of our GTD champions said he was free to be at his daughter’s soccer game and actually be there and not be on his IPhone or something, and actually engaged in watching.
You know, others they find the freedom of enjoying a dinner with their spouse or life-partner and actually being there at dinner and not being distracted by work.
And it shows up in little spaces or you call those big spaces like that and it’s a thing that happens.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Our company is a real big advocate of well-being for our employees and we have these six aspects of well-being and one of them is mindfulness, being present, being in the moment. Our CEO Jim Keane is a huge believer in unplugging when you’re in a meeting with him. He is always there. And I think you and David met with him.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Yes, yeah, beautiful gentleman.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: He’s amazing and you know, you can’t be in the moment if your head is full of all these commitments that you’ve made that you’re afraid of dropping the ball on. So GTD is an enabler to mindfulness like no other thing, more so than meditation or anything else we found.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Um hm. You know, I recently went on vacation to Mexico and I just got back with the family and we had very limited internet access so we had the whole family off of technology for a week and it was amazing how much signal came back through all the noise that we thought was so important before being so connected and in that kind of silent present space you get more sensitive to new stuff coming in, the quality of it, the quality of being together and now that we’re back, I can see the behaviors kind of snapping back into place and it’s a very interesting thing to pay attention to. As David, I think when he was out there, mentioned the book Brain Chains, C-H-A-I-N-S, the chains that bind your brain and how technology and the way the brain reacts to it can be really kind of interesting to pay attention to. Because every time you take a look at that news feed or that Facebook feed, a shot of Dopamine goes into your brain and you’re like, “Ah that felt so good!” But when I personally stepped back, I was like, “What did I really accomplish there?” I was going in to check something else and I get distracted by all this other stuff. It’s very interesting.
So let’s jump over to a different side of things. A couple maybe rapid-fire questions for you: If you were to dial it back to say ten years ago and try to introduce GTD to an earlier version of yourself, what would you say to somebody who’s just starting out their career about GTD and how it might be relevant to them?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: I think no matter what point you’re at in your life or your career, read the book and just start. What I’ve experienced is people will read the book and be a bit overwhelmed, you know, obviously. There’s all these – even if you’re young, there’s a lot of habits that you have to change like writing things down.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: And building a habit like the weekly review, those sort of things, but the key is just to get started and know that it’s possible to follow an approach like this. Anyone can do it, so that’s the advice I have, get started.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Do you find any particular components, particularly for people starting out are a bit more accessible and once people engage with those components, they’re like, “Wow! That was a little more profound than I thought it would be.”
I mean, do you have any experiences, based on your experience with your team members on what they find most useful, say at the front end of GTD and then – then we can explore the back end later?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: So the waiting for follow-up list and really a one-on-one list is a form of waiting for follow-up; tremendous value in that because our world out here in the plant is very busy, very dynamic and often they’ll be things delegated that aren’t followed up on. So one of the biggest transformations we’ve had in the plant are these one-on-one lists and the waiting for follow-up lists. Just circling back to things until all parties feel it’s done is tremendously powerful.
Uh, the weekly review has been an interesting journey for us. I would say by far the most difficult habit to build organizationally in terms of getting to do it. We try to keep our Fridays light loaded in terms of meetings and kind of a heavier load Monday through Thursday and about 80% of our team does their weekly reviews on Friday.
I take the weekly review reminder that day and I forward it out to our entire team, even our team leaders. So team leaders have about 10-12 employees that report to them and so the weekly review reminder goes out to everyone and then I’ll add a few comments, but that’s been a challenge for a lot of us, including myself, to build that habit.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Yeah, but once you step into it what happens? Once you get through the weekly review, what do you feel on the other end?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Oh, freedom and control. You feel on top of your game and I hear that from people all the time. And you can almost sense when someone short-circuited their weekly review because it’s a more frantic individual.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Yeah, that feels so true to me because when I’m fallen out of the weekly review, I get frantic. That’s a good term and I feel scattered. I can feel the disturbance in the field – the force field.
I actually did just a quick analysis of the weekly review. So let’s say, let’s pretend you work a 40 hour work week and you spend 90 minutes on your weekly review, that’s 3.75% of your time and then the question becomes, you know, if you do the 3.75%, how’s that going to improve the quality of the other 96.25%? Ha, ha! So that keeps me motivated, engaged and honest to like, “Oh man, it’s only 3.5%!” I just need to step into it and then let it take over and then when I walk out the other end it’s like, “Why do I resist this at all, if at all?”
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Absolutely! What we found is if they use their weekly review time to catch up on e-mail and catch up on their in-box, a lot of times they’ll use their whole weekly review for processing and so we’ve had that – you know, continue to remind ourselves that that’s not the – obviously you want to zero out your in-box, but that should be a small portion. So just trying to be mindful of that and prepare for that. Okay? Friday afternoon is coming, let’s try and get clean you know. If we have to work a little longer on Thursday or whatever. So we go into it and could really zoom out and you know look at our project lists, make sure there’s a next action associated with each one and really do a weekly review the way it’s meant to be done.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Yeah, now and have you found folks go to their own special place to do their weekly review, because man that’s at Steelcase headquarters. How many beautiful special places can you go to in the space that you have designed at your headquarters and some folks that I know need to get out of like their normal place of operations and actually walk someplace different, their own special hiding place. Do you see that within your team or yourself as a tactic?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Yeah, it’s kind of a mixed bag and I’m actually considering changing the location. I do mine in my office but I still, even though I hang my little GTD Weekly Review in Progress sign on the door, do not disturb sign on the door, I still get interrupted from time to time, so I’m gonna try to chance up the location, but yeah, a lot of people do go and find a quiet space to do it. Some do it at their desks.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: And it’s, you know, varying degrees of effectiveness I would say. We’re still learning.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Good, good.
Now I’m gonna shift topics. Again I want to go back to the nerve center a bit and talk to me a little bit about you know, some of things I saw were ambient information that you had hanging within that nerve center with really kind of your key information that you use to show the health and well being of what you’re managing. Can you tell me a little bit more about that and how that supports your team and the principles behind that and then how that leads to any actions or projects that you might capture in your system?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Absolutely. So it’s a Lead technique of visual management of visual controls and the idea is just to not have things hidden in a spread sheet or on a, you know, on MS Project, or whatever behind the scenes. Try and make, like you said the health of our operation very obvious to the team, so we know what the points of struggle are and we know the areas that are working well, so we can redirect the focus and drive appropriate actions to include the performance.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Nice. And the way it struck me is – is these daily scrums or even the weekly review, there’s the last step in get current is review any relevant check-lists in the weekly review. What I saw there was kind of the visual equivalent of any relevant check-list that you want to see if it triggers anything that you want to capture into your system. So thanks for sharing the resources behind that so if others are interested they could pursue that further.
But I thought it was again, there are so many points of beauty in the flow that you had at an individual level and a team level, that’s another one that caught my attention.
So Bob to shift topics a little bit to go on the personal side, what GTD principles have trickled over to that side that seems to be working for you?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Well I’ve got a lot of hobbies. I love to be outdoors, outdoors with the kids, you know, we’re into kayaking, back-packing, you name it, just anything that we can do together that’s outdoors. We ski and snowboard in the winter, which is great around here; just love being outdoors. So we have, you know, if we’re going to the beach we have a check-list for what to bring to the beach. If we’re going back-packing, of course, we have that check-list; very important, especially if it’s an overnight one or a multi-day one that we have everything with us. It just makes it really, really easy.
I’m learning to kite surf now, which has been an interesting adventure. I’ve drank more Lake Michigan water than I care to mention, uh steep learning curve, but because of GTD I could be out you know, whatever I’m doing enjoying it, focused on it and not worrying about something blowing up in my world that I wasn’t keeping track of like I should have. That’s a huge – a huge benefit to this system, is you know, the freedom. Not just the mental clarity freedom, but the freedom to enjoy the things in your life you want to pay attention to.
MIKE WILLIAMS: That sounds – it sounds like you’ve had the clarity to find some of those fun places to play and explore those.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Absolutely. Uh, my oldest daughter is using a list manager. I do have to admit I use a bit of a technique to get her on board. She really wanted an IPhone and I agreed that I would get her an IPhone as long as she downloaded Wunderlist and we set a shared list, so she’s doing a good job capturing things that she needs to follow-up on, whether it be for school or things around the house and I’ll throw things on there and she’ll do a check-in with me before she goes to the beach with her friends or whatever to make sure we’re in agreement on the things that need to be accomplished beforehand. So …
MIKE WILLIAMS: That’s great!
BOB HENDRIKSEN: A little leverage there.
MIKE WILLIAMS: I had another GTD champion and he developed these things called GTD bucks and if and – he has a little picture of himself on the buck and then he had in-boxes for all his kids and he would put a buck in an in-box with maybe an instruction on it and an expiration date. So if they went to the in-box, found the buck and did what was on the instruction (and the instruction could be just say, “Hey, I checked my in-box and I found this in it” and bring it back to him) they would get buck credit, whatever that was in their family to help promote the behaviors, you know, as you know, form follows functions and it’s a good thing. So kudos to you! Ha, ha, ha. Folks emerge and find their own unique systems as they go. That’s awesome.
And check-lists – where do you keep your check-lists?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: They’re all in my list manager. My uh Wunderlist is my external brain. I use it for random check-lists as well as the context based lists, you know, @computer, in-car. Oh, we actually figured out a way to consolidate two of the lists in this book, so instead of a @phone, or calls-list and an errands list, because we can safely do it with ear buds and Siri, most of us just use a list called in-car, and then we put phone calls in, things to get at the store on that. So, anyway, yeah, it’s all in one turbo-charged list manager that we love.
MIKE WILLIAMS: That’s great. Now do you have any favorite customized context that you like to use outside the standards?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Well yes. So I have one called Horizons of Focus and it contains all the way from 50,000 through 20,000 foot level, so I have my own personal purpose statement, some vision statements, one to three years out and then I’ve got goals listed to support my vision. I’ve got my roles and then of course, projects and actions are separate from those, but I do scan – kind of scan through my Horizons of Focus as part of my weekly review. It’s attached to my check-list for my weekly review. And then I go a little more in depth quarterly and annually.
I used to have to come in and I said, “Why not put it all in the same place.”
MIKE WILLIAMS: Oh excellent.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Uh let’s see, I’ve got a – obviously my weekly review agenda, our shared list. Most of the other ones are right out of the book; Taylor-Dad stuff, that’s the one with my 17 year-old and then I’ve got a set of Wunderlists as a cool feature of these folders that you can take lists and sort of collapse them, so you see a high level and then you can expand it and go down. Uh, let’s see I’ve got a list of cool quotes, I’ve got, yeah, various check-lists for the different outside of work activities that I enjoy, movies to watch all that kind of standard stuff.
Oh, there’s one – podcast with Mike Williams.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Who’s that guy? Ha, ha, ha.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: The – some stuff I was thinking about in advance.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Well is there anything else on that list that we should cover?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: No, we’re hitting it pretty good.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Well, let’s see here. Now is there any question that you wanted me to ask you that I didn’t ask or anything you want to bring forward about your GTD experience, system, practice?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Well David mentioned that those who need it least sort of gravitate to it the most and we have found that here at Steelcase in spades. Our Senior Vice-President of Global Operations, Bob Krestakos is a huge believer in GTD, read the book, gave it to all of his direct reports and his boss and he just – I couldn’t have more of an advocate at the top and that’s why it’s spreading like it is. It’s wonderful.
MIKE WILLIAMS: That’s great. And sage words of wisdom on helping people get a taste and then the taste draws them in further. And we share the same mission here, we’re trying to give people a taste of all of that as well. Probably a good place to stop.
If folks were interested in contacting you or learning more about anything that’s kind of important in your world, where would you like them to go, if that’s okay?
BOB HENDRIKSEN: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, just drop me an e-mail. I’m at [email protected].
MIKE WILLIAMS: Okay. And Bob thank you so much for your time, thank you so much for being a GTD champion. Thank you so much for your friendship. I really appreciate our exchanges over time and I look forward to intersecting again, hopefully on a snowboard on the mountains someplace. That’d be a lot of fun. Ha, ha, ha.
BOB HENDRIKSEN: That’d be fun. Thanks Mike.
MIKE WILLIAMS: Alright. Take care.

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