‘Normal’ checklists are effective whenever there are advantages to standardising performance, time is not critical, the series of tasks is too long to be committed to memory (or there are likely to be interruptions to execution of the task that might interfere with memory retrieval), and the environment enables a physical list to be accessed and used.
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.
We may not like to admit it, but many of us can describe a time when we’ve made a mistake during the progress of a study. These mistakes can range from mixing up wires or forgetting to turn on an amplifier to forgetting to collect an essential piece of information that either requires additional processing time or prevents you from analyzing a certain variable altogether. Increased computing power and technological advancements have also made it easier than ever to collect data.
What these stubborn surgeons fail to see is that checklists provide them more freedom to exercise their professional judgment. They don’t have to think about remembering to do the stupid simple stuff because there’s a checklist for that. Offloading the need to remember basic tasks frees up the brain to concentrate on the important stuff. For surgeons, this means they’re left with more mental RAM to focus on handling unforeseen problems that often come up when you’re slicing someone open.
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.
Modern construction is a perfect example of how checklists can help us manage the complexity of modern life. In today’s complex and interdependent world, failure to communicate is the cause of most of our ineptitude. Different people or teams have different bits of knowledge to complete a project, but failure to communicate that information between the various groups and individuals can cause big-time breakdowns that lead to setbacks, or abject failure.
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.
In healthcare, this technique is used in resuscitation procedures. Healthcare workers are trained and recertified, in low and high fidelity simulators, to commence procedures such as Advanced Cardiac Life Support without referring to a checklist. When the patient is not readily revived or responding as expected, the team will refer to their checklists or algorithms to make sure the steps have been executed properly, and that they have not forgotten anything. For this reason, healthcare workers often keep a cognitive aid (a ‘checklist’ of sorts) posted on emergency carts, tucked into pockets or loaded onto mobile devices. ‘Boldface’ checklists can be effective whenever there is a critical sequence to be completed but time is short, or the situation does not enable a physical list to be immediately accessed and used.
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