Every construction job begins with a massive checklist of tasks that have to get done and each task has an accompanying deadline. While that to-do list plays an important role in ensuring stuff gets done, an equally valuable checklist is also used. Called a “submittal schedule,” it centers on communication. The submittal schedule details which project managers need to talk to which project managers during a specific phase and about a specific process. The submittal schedule’s purpose is to get teams that are working on different yet co-dependent projects to regularly connect so they can discuss any potential sticking points. For example, there might be an item on the checklist for carpenters and plumbers to meet up at a specific time to discuss their progress on their respective tasks. Maybe a problem has come up with the pipes that affects when the carpenters can get started on their work, but perhaps there’s something the carpenters can do to help the plumbers. The trick is to keep each other in the loop so each respective team can take care of these “known unknowns” as quickly and as effectively as they can. Once the teams talk, they check the communication task as complete, and move on with their work.
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First, the structure varies from the design of aviation checklists, in that it combines procedures with formal team discussion; these processes are not mixed in the cockpit but remain distinct because they serve different purposes. The WHO checklist consists of a checklist (Sign In), a briefing (Time Out) and a checklist with a short briefing at the end (Sign Out). Checklists are suited to verification of procedures for linear processes; whereas briefings are suited to support execution of complex processes that may require appropriate adaptation and variation. Briefings are important because surgical outcomes are complex and emergent, and optimal performance of surgical procedures may require flexibility to accommodate the unexpected, however briefings should be instituted separately from the checklist. If briefings are too closely coupled to checklist completion, teams may miss the cognitive shift required to move from linear or procedural work to complex or adaptive work.
Special Unicode Characters in Data Validation Lists: ☐, ☑, ✓, ✔ - This may be my favorite approach. You can include special characters like this in a Data Validation drop-down list. This isn't quite as good as clicking once to fill in a checkbox, but it is great for the mobile Excel apps. The only hard part is remembering how to insert a check mark symbol in Excel. For more information, see my article Using Unicode Character Symbols in Excel.
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.
Though Gawande admits he didn't expect to see the checklist make much difference in his own surgeries, he followed it to avoid hypocrisy and was surprised by the results. The checklist saved a life in at least one case, where a mistake by Gawande led to a critical need for blood while the mistake was corrected. Thanks to the checklist, extra blood had been prepared ahead of time, despite Gawande's confidence in performing a surgery he'd done successfully many times before.
Agile software development leverages a technique called the user story to get enough information for implementing software features from an end-user perspective. Shaping acceptance criteria is an integral part of this process that can be improved with a checklist's help. You can create a special format containing categories, point assessments, labels, names, etc. For example, a Definition of Ready can be transformed in Definition of Done category after changing the story specification. On the picture below, you can see an implementation plan, which is, in fact, a ToDo list containing guidance on how to handle the user story written in the description section.
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