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Musings from the team.

Sometimes There's Nothing Like a Good Checklist

As a manager, I sought out ways to reduce errors and increase repeatability in my team's processes.  One of the best ways I discovered, was the simple to the point of dull, check-list.  My team managers generated checklists for just about everything and this simple tool proved a boon for many reasons:

  • Allows for a quick change artist - Someone who needed to step in and assume a work flow could easily see where the process had been stopped.  How many times has this happened, someone has a family emergency, or takes a vacation and any work required from that person's area of responsibility comes to a halt?  These sorts of bottlenecks are damaging to an organization, and can quickly snowball as work product that may rely on that person's contributions cannot continue.  If someone needs to take over and is not familiar with the daily operations, than having a checklist is invaluable.
  • Shortens the learning curve - New employees can see what is needed.  I've found the tool very valuable here because often the person "training" the new hire goes through the procedures so fast that critical steps get lost in the translation.  The new hire does not want to ask for the instructions to be repeated for fear it makes them look bad and then they start with incorrect processes that only have to be addressed later.
  • Increases accountability and quality - Have someone required to sign off on the work, this makes it easier to find who to talk to later and by being held accountable will make sure that check off is not just a rote exercise, but a series of actions where some thought is required.

Some work functions where I've found checklists effective:

contract administration - review of change orders, contract closeouts, insurance oversight, are some standard processes that can be very tedious and easy to mess up.

vehicle maintenance - we had vehicles assigned to engineers and they had to keep them current with regards to maintenance, insurance, and equipment needed for their jobs.  We had a checklist that they needed to complete on a periodic basis that showed they were not letting anything slide.

contractor management - many of my engineers managed projects and we created a checklist of information that might be critical for them.  We made sure they knew what the scope of work was for their project, so change orders could be controled, on the same note they had a copy of the contract that was negotiated with that contractor, bill of materials that would be assigned to the contractor, a list of permits, and agency contacts, a copy of our escalation process in case they had an emergency, important phone numbers, etc.  The checklist helped them know what information was needed and as we added engineers, they could quickly see if they were missing information and who was to supply it.

The Harvard Business Review has an article that reinforces many of my points and adds a new one, or two as well.

Along the same lines, I thought this quick read from Fast Company, equally applicable as it points to miscommunication because the information conveyor assumes that the intended recipients of the information must already know, or "its obvious", comes into play and we assume everyone knows what we're thinking.