Checklists

Joel Lazer, CPA, CA, CIRPLeadership

Checklists.  When they’re relevant, easy to use, and they make sense, they promote teamwork, make our work easier, and help us not to forget important steps and issues and to keep our systems humming.  When they’re not, they’re annoying, to say the least.

Checklist Manifesto, a book authored by Atul Gawande, provides sufficient information to help us to design useful checklists.

Dr. Gawande is a surgeon and assisted in the preparation of a checklist that is used in hospitals and promoted by the World Health Organization.  The checklist is precise and is utilized prior to surgery. It does not spell out in detail all the steps needed.  Rather, it provides reminders of critical issues.  It helps to put all parties involved with the surgery on the same page.  The checklist helps everyone to know their duties and responsibilities and to improve communication, thereby strengthening the team and increasing the chance of success for the surgery.  Makes you want to know if your surgeon uses a checklist, doesn’t it?

A good checklist is brief; 5 to 9 items are sufficient.  Long checklists run the risk of being under-utilized or ignored.  The checklist should focus on the steps which are critical yet sometimes missed.

They also need to be field tested.  Sitting in an office, it is difficult to replicate the outside world. Test the checklist to see if it works, to see if it makes sense. Make changes and test it again. The sign of a good checklist is the acceptance it receives from the people using it.  If the people for whom the checklist is intended embrace it happily and use it regularly, it’s a good checklist.  If the people sigh, get a blank look on their face, or miss using it regularly, the checklist needs some work.

Life is complicated.  Putting systems in place helps.  And having checklists to make sure the systems work can be integral to the success of your organization.  Invite the hands-on people of your organization to design checklists – and watch productivity increase.