Characteristics of a great checklist

The Checklist Manifesto is currently at the top of my (mental) Favorite Books list. As a process/project/operations manager, I love it’s sheer practicality.How simple is your checklist? | strategysarah.com #31timesavers

How simple is your checklist? | strategysarah.com #31timesaversGawande, a doctor, takes a look at error rates across industries, focusing particularly on the medical industry, where errors have high consequences.

He takes a playbook from the airline industry, which has very clear standards and checklists for every little thing. A large percentage of these are rarely used, as they pertain to obscure and specific malfunctions and errors.

I’ve written many checklists and process documents in my 12+ year career, and I feel like one read (and copious note-taking!) barely scratched the surface of what I intend to review and implement in my own work.My biggest aha moment that is so simple it’s a “Duh, why didn’t I think of that?!

What’s the point of your checklist?

Gawande talks about the difference between a READ-DO and a DO-CONFIRM checklist. They’re fairly self-explanatory. With a READ-DO checklist, you follow the checklist as you go as a guide to make sure you follow every single step. A DO-CONFIRM checklist is used as a final check after a process or task is performed, to ensure nothing is missed. DO-CONFIRM checklists are performed at set pause-points in a given process, and ideally only take 30-60 seconds to review.

The concept of a DO-CONFIRM checklist was eye opening to me, as I think I (and many I’ve worked with) have always viewed a checklist as a READ-DO document. A READ-DO document is easy to discard as too much work, or irrelevant, or something that adds time, but doesn’t add value.

Key questions to ask when creating a checklist:

  • Is there a clear objective?
  • Can the checklist be simplified any further?
  • Is every step clear and unambigious?
  • Have you tested (and revised) the checklist in real-life (or as close to real-life as possible) situations?
  • Will the problem or process be measurable improved by use of the checklist?

If you’re interested in a detailed checklist for creating your checklist, Dr. Gawande and Dan Boorman of Boeing’s official Checklist for Checklists can be downloaded here.

What area(s) of your life could use checklists or improved checklists?


This post is part of 31 Timesaving Tools, Tips & Templates, read the rest of the series here.  

3 thoughts on “Characteristics of a great checklist”

  1. Larissa Traquair

    I’ll be honest and say that this was over my head but I am intrigued. I am going to read this post again, during daylight hours and when I am more awake, and check out the link to the checklist. I am a checklist kind of gal but this process is failing me or I am failing it. Love that I discovered this series and I appreciate your comment on my post for today!!!

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