Checklists: FTW

Ronald Bartels
Dec 25, 2018 · 3 min read

Doing the work right

A checklist is used to compensate for the weaknesses of human memory to help ensure consistency and completeness in carrying out a task. Checklists came into prominence with pilots with the pilot’s checklist first being used and developed in 1934 when a serious accident hampered the adoption into the armed forces of a new aircraft (the predecessor to the famous Flying Fortress). The pilots sat down and put their heads together. What was needed was some way of making sure that everything was done; that nothing was overlooked. What resulted was a pilot’s checklist. Actually, four checklists were developed — take-off, flight, before landing, and after landing. The new aircraft was not “too much aeroplane for one man to fly”, it was simply too complex for any one man’s memory. These checklists for the pilot and co-pilot made sure that nothing was forgotten.

When running projects it is important to document and record dependencies. Often these are too many for a single individual to remember and thus lists capture those critical requirements that would otherwise have slipped through the cracks.

Checklists are an important and often overlooked tool. Tom Peters has this to say about checklists.

Process & Simplicity: Checklists!! Complexifiers often rule — in part the byproduct of far too many “consultants” in the world, determined to demonstrate the fact that their IQs are higher than yours or mine. Enter Johns Hopkins’ Dr Peter Pronovost. Dr P was appalled by the fact that 50% of folks in ICUs (90,000 at any point — in the U.S. alone) develop serious complications as a result of their stay in the ICU, per se. He also discovered that there were 179 steps, on average, required to sustain an ICU patient every day. His answer: Dr P “invented” the … ta-da … checklist! With the religious use of simple paper lists, prevalent ICU “line infection” errors at Hopkins dropped from 11% to zero — and stay-length was halved. (Results have been consistently replicated, from the likes of Hopkins to inner-city ERs.) “[Dr Pronovost] is focused on work that is not normally considered a significant contribution in academic medicine,” Dr Atul Gawande, wrote in “The Checklist” ( New Yorker, 1210.07). “As a result, few others are venturing to extend his achievements. Yet his work has already saved more lives than that of any laboratory scientist in the last decade.”

View Dr Atul Gawande’s TED talk:

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Ronald Bartels

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Ronald is a technologist and service management evangelist. He started driving a tractor when he was five years old and would love to own a Massey-Fergurson!

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