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.