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In addition to the above examples, I’m trying to develop more checklists for my work and personal life. I’ve looked at some re-occurring sticking points that happen throughout the day and have been experimenting with whether a checklist can help with it. My challenge to you this week is to take a look at your own life and see if there are areas where a checklist would help out. It’s not a sexy tool, but it’s a powerful one!
Lastly, the checklist involves a Time Out: this requires that everything stops and no one interrupts. In an emergency, or under extreme time pressure, it is difficult to get everyone on the team to stop what they are doing and attend completely. The loss of team discussion under time pressure has been described by some centres implementing the Safe Surgery checklist.6 ,13 These are the times when mistakes are most likely to occur, yet paradoxically also when the Time Out portion of the checklist (the briefing to support complex work) is least likely to be performed as intended.
2. Focus only on the “stupid” essential stuff that’s frequently overlooked or skipped. You don’t need a checklist that lists every single step on how to complete a task. That renders a checklist useless. Instead, just focus on putting down the “stupid” but essential stuff that you frequently miss. Your checklist should have no more than 9 items on it. The shorter the better.
Clinicians have long relied on an analogous form of decision support such as lists or algorithms for differential diagnosis. When a patient presentation is unusual (non-normal but not emergent), differential diagnosis lists (whether in old-fashioned textbooks or new-fashioned handhelds) support clinical performance by serving as a cognitive aid. The practice of reviewing a complete differential helps overcome anchoring and confirmation biases and can be a forcing function to ensure that every critical, and treatable aetiology is ‘ruled out’. Unlike non-normal checklists that are built into cockpit workflow, differential lists are often not well-integrated into clinical workflow and this may undermine their use.12
To build a proper testing checklist you need to take into account not only the product requirements and user stories, but also cover a wider spectrum of implementation. At the same time, the test scope should be narrow enough to focus on a product’s functionality. It is also important to make separate tests for different parts or elements of activity. For example, a purchase activity on a website may consist of three parts - signing in, adding products to the cart, and signing out. Splitting your checklists for testing procedures will isolate test failures and keep the focus on the essential details.
Our checklists and checklist templates are licensed for personal use only. However, to avoid a bunch of emails, I will also say that I am okay with you doing almost anything with these checklists except posting the checklist (or anything you have created using the checklist template) on the internet or selling it. That includes permission to print and distribute as many paper copies of your checklist as you need. Don't remove the copyright or hyperlinks that I've included in the spreadsheet, though.
3. Decide if you need a “communication” checklist. Most checklists are likely procedural (they lay out things you need to do), but some tasks or projects are so complex that communicating with others becomes vital to managing all the moving pieces. In such a case, create a dedicated communication checklist and make sure it includes who needs to talk to whom, by when, and about what.
We’ve mentioned debugging as a component of the deployment process. However, a process of removing existing and potential errors in the code can be optimized with checklists describing the most important steps for both novice and experienced team members. With that in mind, you will turn the never-ending process of fixing errors into an organized and tailored activity for product optimization.
1. Checklists verify that the necessary minimum gets done. With increasing complexity comes the temptation to skip over the stupid simple stuff and instead focus on the “sexy” parts of one’s work and life. Because the stupid simple stuff is so stupid and simple, we often fool ourselves that it’s not important in the grand scheme of things. But as we’ve seen, it’s often our most basic tasks that can spell the difference between success and disaster.
Accepting the fallibility of our memories and the overwhelming amount of information we need to manage and apply in our jobs is an important first step. Realize, as Gawande wrote, that "Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us," and recognize that the checklist can make sure your brain doesn't fail you—ever. Then, you'll be ready to create and rely on a checklist, one that that will help you perform better, and more consistently.
When ideas are translated from one industry to another, the assumptions underlying the original concepts may be lost or diluted. As checklists are increasingly imposed through a variety of professional and regulatory mandates in North America,5 Europe6 and elsewhere,7 perhaps it is time to review the fundamental principles of checklist use, including why they might work and how we can implement them better.
That brings us to the last point about checklists - they DO NOT replace knowledge. An investor interviewed for the book said it best when describing that the checklist is “not a fail safe thing…you still need expertise and insight into the process to be able to ultimately perform each step correctly”. These checklists wouldn’t help me if I didn’t know what I was doing to begin with. Rather than being a “Step by Step to Collecting Data”, people can perform a task however they want and the checklist makes sure that in the end that task was performed correctly.
Being a professional implies constant education. Even top-notch experts have to nurture their domain knowledge to maintain their background. At the same time, can we claim that a high level of expertise guarantees lack of errors? The question is especially acute in software development where each error results in an increase in time and cost. Therefore, regardless of the chosen methodology - Agile, Lean, Rapid, Feature Driven, or others - striving to organize software development processes should be a top priority for project managers and other leaders. In that context, similar to the unsung hero, whose is not noticed by the public but crucial for the history, checklists come to center stage.