Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

The Importance of Checklists

For so many of the things we do in our daily lives, we tend to think that we don’t need to write down our procedures, we don’t need a checklist. It’s easy to say to ourselves “I do this everyday, I don’t need a checklist.” It is also easy to lull ourselves with the thought that perhaps checklists are only for those that are novices and not yet fully skilled in the area.

There are few books that have affected our management practices more than Atul Gawande’s “The Checklist Manifesto.” Gawande outlines the power of checklists in the medical arena, illustrating the numerous times the absence of checklists resulted in adverse patient outcomes and the implementation of checklists improved patient outcomes.

Gawande doesn’t leave it entirely to the reader to figure out how this principle applies to non-medical situations. However, this is far from a cookie cutter approach. In our experience, finding the right items to put on a checklist that will help ensure improvement is no easy task.

First, the checklist has to be simple. If a checklist is too involved or complex, no matter how otherwise great it is, it will go unused. Second, the checklist has to target key error producing behaviors. Finding those key behaviors represents its own dilemma, but writing down a solution for them that fits within the simplicity rule can be extraordinarily difficult.

A good place to begin is with any routine process that produces a degree of error in your organization. Maybe while onboarding new employees there is a degree of error in personal information, department or network permission assignation. Knowing what errors and the frequency of those errors is a good place to begin. The second step consists of bringing staff together who play a role in that process — either enter the data, or need the data. This meeting should involve conversations about how the errors happen, what the effect of the errors is, and what kinds of things cause the errors. Third, is identifying possible checklist items that meet the dual criteria of simplicity and likely effectiveness. Last is the planning of implementation, which is really a behavioral modification plan.

The next time you are reviewing your organization’s data, consider where you are getting errors and bring your team together to consider a checklist to help minimize them. You will be glad you did.

The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement.

– George Will




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16th Street Consulting is dedicated to improving organizational effectiveness through equity, focusing on education, health care, and government.

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