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Certainty Software Industry

‘Certainty Software’ can be used in any industry

Sure, there are some disadvantages to using checklists which we’ve touched on in the preceding blogs. But the far biggest obstacle to their successful implementation is the ‘expert’ who’s offended at the thought of ever needing a checklist. That ‘expert’ can be anyone in the organisation. The expert will give any number of reasons checklists are a waste of time but none of those reasons really stand up to scrutiny.

The use of a checklist WILL help improve efficiency by minimising mistakes. Checklists provide a written trail detailing what’s been done at every stage of a project. Checklists can be created and used on paper or online. They are as good for making time-critical decisions as they are for methodically going through a step-by-step procedure. They work equally well in any industry or field that requires a process— from hotel management, education, manufacturing and auto repair to the practice of medicine, aviation, oil, gas and the shipping industries.

The ideal checklist should be precise, efficient, easy to use in any situation and straight to the point. All the items on a good checklist should be actionable and grouped by category. You can get started easily and create a checklist quickly and simply yourself by using WORD or other software. In WORD, for example, you can create two kinds of checklists:

  • Lists with check boxes or check marks instead of bullets or numbers. Use boxes if you plan to print the list, for example, and check off each item you complete, or
  • Lists you can check off in Word. This involves adding a content control from the Developer tab, but you don’t need to be a developer to do it.

Just check out the Microsoft support page here:

If you’re still not sure if a checklist will improve the performance results of your current or future projects, just have a think about the different purposes they can have.

  • Step-by-step Procedures: Checklists that take a person through a complex procedure to minimise errors.
  • Verification and Inspection: Checklists allow someone to check that a task has been done correctly for inspection purposes.
  • Evaluation: Checklists allow the user to assess a person or a product. For example, whether someone is a good match for a job or whether a product has all the required components.
  • Troubleshooting: Checklists can be used for finding a technical or mechanical error when it lists ways to troubleshoot common problems.
  • Observation: Checklists delineate a set of possible behaviors an observer can check off when trying to understand an individual’s performance.

So, if you still think checklists don’t work or are a waste of time, please be sure to let us know and we’ll see if we can help persuade you otherwise.

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1 – Because everyone already knows what we need to do!

You may think that everyone knows that to do because they’ve done it a hundred times before. But even though we’ve told them what to do, people often don’t listen and frequently try and take short-cuts. Those short-cuts could hurt your operations in many ways and cost you money.  We know it takes time to create and then use checklists properly, but when there is a repeatable set of procedures, the time saving over the longer term far outweighs any cost. If we don’t have a written checklist that is to be followed on every occasion we’ll suffer inconsistency, operational failure and poor customer service. That’s a fact.

2 – Because the checklist is on scraps of paper

Dog-eared bits of old paper or ‘post-it’ notes stuck to desks just look awful so don’t expect them to be used! Checklists should be vital components in our businesses. They’re needed so you and your staff can provide a consistently repeatable service each time. When they’re used well, somebody who knows nothing about your business could undertake the task just by following your checklists – and that saves the business time and money.

3 – Because the checklist items have no time-frame

Performing a basic task such as sending a welcome letter to new clients a week after they’ve joined you, or maybe not if you don’t remember, is NOT a good advert for your business. Perhaps there are legal requirements in your industry to action certain items within specified time-frames. When creating checklists, work out exactly when each task needs to be done and set specific time-frames for completion. We suggest doing this by way of ‘offset’ rather than date. For example, on Day One a welcome letter is to be sent. On Day One plus 1, an email requesting the client’s account information is sent. On Day One plus 5, a chaser for any outstanding information is sent.

4 – Because the checklist has no reminders to act

It’s all very well having a checklist but if you forget to revisit it nothing is going to happen. Paper records and diary notes to chase something up just overwhelm people and are easily overlooked altogether. Set reminders, preferably using a tool like ‘Certainty Software’ that requires no action on your part to initiate the alert, for each task on your checklist to ensure it is done and on time.

5 – Because the checklist is incomplete

Tasks that should be completed in a sequenced process need to be recorded. Missing a crucial step because it wasn’t listed is inexcusable! Ensure every step is recorded and ensure your checklists are updated when you devise new or improved ways of managing processes.

6 – Because the checklist isn’t always completed

We all get distracted by email, phone calls or by personal callers. We usually don’t mean to fail to do something, but things do get missed and those missed tasks could be important. We tend to justify behaviours to ourselves with remarks like “in this case it doesn’t matter” or “the Client will understand” but we should never allow ourselves to miss items. For a business to work brilliantly you must be consistent. If you find yourself taking shortcuts, revisit the checklist and decide whether any of the items are not required. If they’re not needed then remove them. But if you can’t remove an item then clearly it is essential they are completed!

7 – Because the checklist gets ignored when too busy

Checklists must be aids rather than an inconvenience. We all get busy and shortcuts can get taken. If people think they can ‘get away with it’ or see something as unimportant they will very often try to ignore it. It’s important to make checklists a vital and essential part of a business. If checklists are time-savers and aids rather than ‘jobs to do’ in themselves, they will be embraced and make your business run much more smoothly.

8 – Because there’s no accountability for completing the checklist

If there’s nobody assigned to undertake any specific tasks on a checklist then there is no accountability for its completion. And then the task just doesn’t get completed! Everyone needs to know the extent of their responsibility and by using checklists as guidelines everyone understands their tasks and what to do. If there are tasks that must be completed by certain individuals then those jobs must be assigned to them and steps taken to ensure the completion of those tasks. If they’re not completed, the person responsible must know that they will be held to account.

9 – Because the checklist isn’t monitored

If nobody checks to ensure tasks are completed on time then the checklist is useless. An unused checklist is pointless. To ensure control, simply create an over-riding task to monitor each checklist (hourly, daily, weekly etc. – as may be appropriate for your business needs) and then follow up with anything that’s overdue or outstanding.

10 – Because the checklist is never reviewed to ensure its completed

Assumption is the Mother-of-all-Mistakes. If there are six tasks to be completed during the process of integrating a client into your business you’ll want to know that each step has been properly completed. Never assume that everything’s been done. Just assuming things have been done ‘because they’re on the checklist’ is a recipe for disaster. As a manager, you undoubtedly want to keep on top of what is going on in your business. So set aside time each day to check the progress of all checklists. Ensure anything that’s overdue or incomplete is investigated and sign off each checklist when it’s complete. For audit purposes, and to avoid doubt later, it’s a great idea to keep a record of when each task is completed and by whom.

Checklists are a vital element in systematising and streamlining your business… if you follow these 10 points you’ll find that your checklists do work after all!

Simon BeechinorInspection management, Safety data, Safety managementLeave a Comment

We’ve talked about Atul Gawande before and his book ‘The Checklist Manifesto‘ and, at this early stage in our blog series on checklists, we think it’s worth hammering home some of the points he makes.

Boeing, NASA and other large organisations have entire teams dedicated to creating checklists. Fortunately, you can capture significant improvements using checklists even if you are working on your own. The following six step process is designed to help you create and use your first checklist. Once you become confident with the process, you can develop checklists for other important activities in your life and work (e.g. preparing for an international trip or launching a product).

One note of caution before we proceed. Resist the urge to create a complex checklist with dozens of steps. After all, a checklist only produces value if it is used. As with any other skill, it makes sense to walk before you run.

Step 1: Identify “Stupid Mistakes” That Cause Failure

Understanding the most significant causes of failure is the first step in creating a helpful checklist. For this blog post, I will use the example of creating a corporate financial report. Two of the common causes of failure are data source problems and model performance errors. Addressing these mistakes will form the focus of the checklist.

Step 2: Seek Additional Input From Others

With most types of work, there are other people in your organisation who either do similar work or who use the results of your work. Ask these people for their ideas on the common causes of failure or what they would suggest checking. I have found that many people are willing to offer some thoughts and observations, especially if they are impacted by your work.

Step 3: Create Simple “Do” Steps

‘Do’ steps are exactly what they sound like – reminders to do a specific action. In the case of a corporate financial report, you could check the structure and size of the data source files for validity, using previous reports as a baseline. Likewise, you can check data connections in the model to ensure that data is flowing through the model correctly.

Step 4: Create Simple “Talk” Steps

This step comes from Gawande’s example of a checklist in the operating room. In his example, he created a step on the checklist where everyone introduces them by name and role. In the project management context, ‘Talk’ steps are even more important. The ‘talk’ steps selected for the checklist are designed to prevent the major causes of failure. In the case of a financial report, one could schedule a short meeting with the stakeholders to review the draft report before it is approved for release.

Step 5: Test The Checklist

Following the above steps, you finally have the chance to put your checklist into action. Expect that your first checklist will have some gaps. Simply take note of those gaps and continue working through the process. In the example of producing a financial report, a gap might be to validate the currency and foreign exchange factors of the source files.

Step 6: Refine the Checklist

Based on your experience in Step 5, it is time to refine and improve the checklist. Continuous improvement is the name of the game in checklist development. As you improve the quality of your work with checklists, consider sharing your findings with other professionals.


Simon BeechinorInspection management, Safety data, Safety managementLeave a Comment

Management Solution - Agriculture, Mining & Aggregates

Management Solution – Maritime, Oil, Gas Renewable Energy, Agriculture, Mining & Aggregates

We’ve previously blogged about Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto and also draw your attention to this site which is a great help for the medical sector. We suggest you make yourselves familiar with both, but here is a great ‘checklist for checklists’ that’ll help you get started whichever industry you’re in. Just use this as a clear, simple and general guide to get yourself started.


Do you have clear, concise objectives for your checklist? – Is each item:

• A critical safety step and in great danger of being missed?
• Not adequately checked by other mechanisms?
• Actionable, with a specific response required for each item?
• Designed to be read aloud as a verbal check?
• One that can be affected by the use of a checklist?

Have you considered:

• Adding items that will improve communication among team members?
• Involving all members of the team in the checklist creation process?


Does the Checklist:

• Utilise natural breaks in workflow (pause points)?
• Use simple sentence structure and basic language?
• Have a title that reflects its objectives?
• Have a simple, uncluttered, and logical format?
• Fit on one page?
• Minimise the use of color?

Is the font:

• Sans serif?
• Upper and lower case text?
• Large enough to be read easily?
• Dark on a light background?
Are there fewer than 10 items per pause point?
Is the date of creation (or revision) clearly marked?


Have you:

• Trialled the checklist with front line users (either in a real or simulated situation)?
• Modified the checklist in response to repeated trials?

Does the checklist:

• Fit the flow of work?
• Detect errors at a time when they can still be corrected?
Can the checklist be completed in a reasonably brief period?
Have you made plans for future review and revision of the checklist?

Simon BeechinorInspection management, Safety data, Safety managementLeave a Comment


Before we get into the detail of industry specific checklists and the issues involved in their design and operation we should remind you about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their employees. OSHA’s role is to assure the safety and health of America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health.

Other countries have similar organisations that do the same sort of work as OSHA and the guidance each offers is very similar too

Let’s start off small. OSHA produce a handbook for owners, proprietors and managers of small businesses. Please note that the entire text of the Small Business Handbook is available on OSHA’s website at*.

Now the point of us telling you this is that there are large number of great checklist examples for you to use in this booklet. Download it and check it out.

We suggest you use these templates as a base from which to start designing your own that are specific to your business. Let us know if you need any help. The handbook should help small business employers meet the legal requirements imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and achieve an in-compliance status before an OSHA inspection. An excellent resource to accompany this information is OSHA’s Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines, which is also available on OSHA’s website.

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Do you need help working with checklists? Do you struggle to design the right checklists for your business? – Talk to us and see how we can help, for free*! We can help you find templates to use, ‘sense-check’ the templates you think you’d like to use or even design new templates from scratch – just ask, see how we can help and what we can do for you – completely free*!

The use of checklists is integral to many industries from manufacturing, aviation and maritime transport to oil, gas and renewable energy businesses, and increasingly the field of medicine. Though the benefits of checklists are well known, those benefits depend on the checklist being properly designed, tested and used. We welcome the use of checklists in any sector, but it’s essential to customise each checklist tool for its specific purpose. It’s sensible to take advantage of the literature from other domains to create usable and successful checklists.

Using checklists is a simple and remarkably effective strategy for ensuring safety and accuracy in performing many routine and complex tasks. Checklists have long been used in industries such as aviation but are only recently making headway in other sectors such as medicine. The reluctance of many professionals to adopt checklists is often a reaction against accepting ‘even more paperwork’ or due to a disbelief in their effectiveness. However, there’s now substantial evidence in their favour and literature that offers help establishing many best practices in checklist design. YOUR business stands to benefit.

Checklists aren’t a panacea for mismanagement and mistakes in managing safety. Any system has the power to complicate or help—it’s the design of the checklist determines its utility. A poorly designed, complicated or lengthy checklist can harm performance just as easily as a good one can improve it. Fortunately, there are plenty of guidelines for checklist design available.

If you’d like help finding or preparing checklist templates for your business, we’d be pleased to help – just let us know. If you have any questions about how checklists can help your business just ask us, it needn’t cost you anything!

(*) Subject to a previously agreed scope of work

Simon BeechinorInspection management, Safety managementLeave a Comment

Safety thirdWe often SAY that safety is our number one priority and we’d probably like it to be. But if we drill down into our business we’d probably find that not everyone agrees with us. We may have signs and slogans plastered all over our walls shouting ‘Safety First’ but in real terms our behaviour probably indicates that ‘getting the job done’ is our number one priority. ‘Safety’ is not a priority which can change according to external factors, it’s a core value which must be considered in every action and task that we undertake.

We probably don’t mean it but there are many ways we demonstrate exactly where ‘safety’ is on the management priority list. An example of this probably starts with our board meetings… where does ‘safety’ appear on the directors’ board agenda every month? It may well be down at the foot of the page and is the last thing to be discussed after all the interesting stuff has been debated, everyone’s tired and wants to go home. If safety really is our top priority, perhaps it should be the FIRST topic of conversation on the agenda? Other examples might include spending hours in operations planning or production meetings but only a few minutes on safety or tool-box talks. Failure to do what we say we do sends a powerful message about safety to all our people. It’s our inaction and lack of belief in our own rhetoric that sends a far more powerful signal than any slogan we’ve got posted up in the office or out on site.

A good question to ask is why do our managers and people who really should care deeply about safety behave in ways that contradict their supposed values? We need to look closely at how safety is measured. Incident Rate, Lost Time Rate and other indicators can be poor measures of safety. These indicators may tell us how many people got hurt and how badly, but they don’t tell us how well our business is doing at preventing accidents. This is because these indicators can be a poor gauge of prevention because of what statisticians call ‘natural variation’. In other words, it is a statistical fact that if the number of unsafe conditions and behaviours in a period of, say, a year were held constant, a business could experience a different number of incidents during the first half of the year and the last half. Thus, incident rates can get better or get worse with absolutely no change in safety conditions or behaviours being made. The result is that a business can go for long periods of time without accidents, despite having an unsafe work environment. This situation mitigates against making safety a priority when managers may do nothing about safety for a period yet their behaviour can be reinforced with a good incident rate. This is probably what contributed to the concerns of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) which we referred to last week.

In the case of measuring productivity and quality for example, we find that those measures tend to be provided with more frequent and sensitive measures and are therefore more visible and immediate and therefore likely to change management behaviour. So it’s easy for ‘safety’ to find itself on the back-burner. When an incident rate is apparently low, we might assume all is well with safety and focus on other priorities.

If we really want to make ‘safety’ a priority, we need to use various measures to quantify it. While Incident Rates are necessary and important measures, it should be used along with others. Other measures should focus on employee behaviour such as tracking what people are doing every day to prevent accidents. When there are measures of what we really do on a regular basis to prevent accidents, we can ensure those activities do occur. For example, a business that has a behaviour-based safety process in place has records that track our regular activities aimed at improving safe conditions and behaviour. Daily and weekly responsibilities will ensure that safety is elevated to an equal footing with other business measures and really help make safety a priority for everyone.

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A interesting counter-view of the benefits of Behavioural Based Safety systems is raised here. It’s an aged article and produced by a controversial labour organisation, The Maritime Union of Australia… (c’mon guys, your views have been considered ‘strident’ on occasions in the past…) Nonetheless we think it’s a valid comment and would welcome your own comments and experience, if you have any counter-views too. We should make it clear though, we here at Certainty Software think that management DO remain accountable FULL STOP

For example, there’s been considerable comment blaming the loss of ‘Costa Concordia’ on the Master as a function of a Behavioural Based Safety approach… once again, we take the view that however it gets sliced, the Master may have been the man on the spot, but it’s still management that still remains accountable.

What do you think of the MUA’s views? – let us know…

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Why imageThe next blog in our series on how to develop a Behavioural Based Safety System is ‘How to Focus on the Real Root Cause of Errors’ – We don’t like to make things complicated and think you’ll find this a really easy model to follow. Try it out and do please let us know how you get on?

Determine the Root Cause by asking ‘Why’ five times…

We certainly don’t want to make you sound like your five year old child by constantly asking ‘Why?’ the whole time, but it is a great tool to use to drill down into an issue and find the ‘Root Cause’ of a problem or failure. If you repeatedly ask the question ‘Why?’, just as with an onion, you can strip away the layers of symptoms to allow you to find the root cause of a problem. We recommend asking ‘Why?’ five times, but in truth you may find you need to ask this question more than that or sometimes less, but five times is a good ‘Rule of thumb’. If you do this, you’ll find that the answer to one question will naturally lead you to ask the next and so on.

What are the benefits of asking ‘Why?’ five times?

  • To help identify the root cause of a problem
  • To find if there’s any relationship between the apparent causes of a problem.
  • It’s simple and doesn’t need complicated statistical analysis.

When should we ask the five ‘Why?’s?

  • Whenever an issue involves the ‘human factor’ or the involvement of people, or
  • At any time in the course of operations. It can be done quickly and easily.

How should we ask the five ‘Why?’s

  • Write down the nature of specific problem or issue you’re reviewing. This helps you and your colleagues collectively describe and understand the problem together
  • Ask why the problem arises and then just write down the answer beneath the problem
  • If the answer to ‘Why?’ doesn’t identify the root cause of the problem then ask ‘Why?’ again and write that down, and so on
  • Keep going and asking ‘Why?’ until everyone agrees that the root cause of the problem has been identified.

Here’s an example: Let’s assume that your major client is unhappy because the products that you’ve just delivered don’t meet the agreed specification – you’ve got a major problem and risk losing the client to a competitor if you don’t come up with an answer quickly… Firstly, write down the ‘Problem Statement’: Our customer is upset because they’ve received 10,000 widgets that don’t meet the agreed specification.

1. Why has the customer been shipped defective widgets? – Because we fabricated the widgets to a different specification that that which was agreed.

2. Why did we fabricate the widgets to a different specification than that agreed? – Because the production team took instructions from sales over the telephone and they misunderstood the requirement.

3. Why did sales call the production team instead of following the procedure established in the QA system? – Because the ‘start work’ instruction form requires both the sales director’s and the production director’s written agreement before work can begin. This was going to slow the manufacturing process as the Sales Director was travelling overseas at the time.

4. Why does the form specify that BOTH the Sales and Production Director’s written approval is required? – Because the QA manager specified it when she designed the form

5. Why did the QA manger specify that BOTH approvals were required in WRITING? – Because the same problem has arisen before when Production were told to do something verbally by Sales that had never been approved. The business had previously lost a customer as a result of the specification being communicated improperly.

In this case we have asked ‘Why?’ five times to find out that the apparently urgent requirement for a written signature authority helped to cause a process breakdown. As you can see the final ‘Why?’ leads the team to a statement (a.k.a the ‘root cause’) so that the team can now take action and do something about. In this case it was a matter of ‘more-haste-less-speed’ and it would have been much quicker and less costly to define a secure system that keeps the sales and production directors informed than it is to try to directly solve the apparent problem (a rush order) without proper thought and planning.

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tailorThe next in our series on implementing a Behavioural Based Safety system involves ‘tailoring’ the language, style and branding of the program to your own organisation. It’s can be a great idea to use a standard ‘off-the-shelf’ program that has been proven to work elsewhere – but it MUST be tailored to your own organisation so people understand the relevance of the program in terms of language and content. ‘Tailoring’ in this context refers to the need to ensure that there is the correct amount of planning, control and governance in your program to ensure a fit in your organisation.

‘Tailoring’ doesn’t mean that you omit any of the key elements of the BBS, as each part of the a BBS program is interlinked. We should NOT think of each element as a separate ‘silo’ of activity. Tailoring is about adapting the method to external factors such as corporate standards and project factors such as the scale or scope of the project. It’s important not to overburden the BBS but to ensure that an appropriate level of control can be provided. ‘Tailoring’ therefore is is about thinking how to apply the program and then using it with a lightness of touch.

In principle then, consider as follows:

(a) Adapt the theme of the program and ensure that you capture any corporate policies and standards. Consider Risk, Quality, Strategy and Communications strategies and how your program needs to fit into each of these.

(b) Apply your organisation’s terminology and language. For example, if your program talks of ‘Health and Safety’, yet your organisation talks of ‘Safety, Health and Security’ make sure you use the same terminology to ensure language is standardised and people will understand your program more easily.

(c) Provide templates and materials in support of your program that are branded in line with your corporate branding and imagery.

(d) Adapt the program’s roles and responsibilities so that you make full use of the skills and expertise within your organisation. Make sure that you match individuals’ capabilities and authorities to the tasks they will undertake.

Finally (e), adapt the processes of your program. Of course all processes should be relevant even in simple programs but the degree of formality and administration employed should be compatible with the program plan.

Once you’ve ‘tailored’ your program, get together with the project team and discuss what you’ve developed or just like any form of tailoring, try out your new outfit before you buy!