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.
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.
That’s it for theory. In practice, you can take advantage of checklists in project management (PM) tools. This sort of software is leveraged to keep the workflow organized and provide the team with the ability to see other stuff circulating in the working environment. However, the market abounds with versatile PM solutions, which is not always a benefit to an inexperienced user. Therefore, you have two paths to choose from - either take a look at a comparison post like this one, or consider the following must-have features in your search:
Whenever he went on business trips, my Dad would always write down the items he would need to take. His checklist would include articles of clothing, types of clothing to take, and personal hygiene items, along with the work-related items he would need. Although I cannot be certain, I strongly suspect he also included lists of work-related issues that he either knew about ahead of time or at the very least he would make a note of to bring up during the trip. That way, he would ensure that nothing would be forgotten by him or left to chance.
‘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.
I started to brain storm other areas that checklists could be beneficial. In the construction industry, Gawande explains that checklists are used so that key points are discussed between those in different aspects of the building process. For research, are there things that you always need to talk about with other experimenters or your supervisor when it comes to a study? Maybe a checklist can help there too. Also, when editing manuscripts or proofs, you could have a structured set of points to assess such as, “check to make sure data in tables/figures is correct” or “make sure reference list is up to date”. These all seem so basic, but if taking the time to go over them and know that once you’ve handed in the manuscript that these things have definitely been checked, it could prevent you from having to submit an erratum due to something like an improper figure.
You need sprint planning to ascertain the relevant context of the product and responsibility for certain tasks. The process itself is a kind of endorsement of the decisions taken during the backlog refinement. The checklist's role is to establish a proper context at every point of the backlog. It is a good practice to shape a separate list for three stages of the session - before, after and during the sprint planning. In doing so, you will reduce the cognitive load of handling practices.
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.
Checklist compliance is increasingly monitored in healthcare.5 Often, institutions conduct internal audits of checklist compliance in anticipation of regulatory inspections. Using ‘compliance with checklist’ audits as a measure of safety or quality, however, is problematic, as high checklist compliance is no guarantee that the task is well-executed,18 or that patient safety culture is high.20 In addition, some of the benefits that have been found to be associated with checklist usage, such as enhanced team building and nurses speaking up, are likely to be negated if compliance audits lead to sanctions.
Any operation, be it a part of software development process or any other activity, consists of complex and basic tasks. Nobody wants to focus on humdrum stuff instead of the lucrative part of the work. However, both elements are important, and checklists allow you to remember the little things. There happen to be some simple tasks in a pipeline, and they should not be ignored.
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