Checklists don’t work….do they?

Simon Beechinor Inspection management, Safety data, Safety management 0 Comments

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!

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