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Shobhendu Prabhakar

Lean

Ten Reasons Why You Need Checklists

The tool we love to ignore

Published: Monday, January 21, 2019 - 12:03

Why do we waste our time and effort completing checklist after checklist for tasks that we can complete even when half awake? Do we not have better things to do than complete checklists?

Good question! And the answer is simple: If there is a checklist, it exists for a reason, and we need to follow it diligently to complete the tasks at hand. Below are some insights about why checklists are vital and how they can save lives, improve performance, increase efficiency, and improve the bottom line.

Ten reasons why you need checklists

1. Time management. There are 24 hours in a day and 100 things to complete. Even worse, 50 of these 100 tasks have 10 steps each. We are humans and tend to forget. Having a checklist helps ensure that we have not missed any step that is essential to get desired results.

2. Consistency. It doesn’t matter whether Joe does it or Sara; you get the same product or service. In business terms, this is called consistency. Yes, using checklists provides consistent products or services, and reduces variability.

3. Handle complexity. Checklists are complexity’s or complication’s best friends. When tasks are complicated or complex, checklists are not optional but necessary for success. Think about surgical operations, flying a plane, building a skyscraper, or offshore pipeline installation.

4. Universal application. Checklists don’t discriminate against simple or complex necessary tasks. A good checklist includes a set of tasks or steps necessary, irrespective of simplicity or complexity, to get the job done. Often, it is not the complex steps that we tend to forget but the simple ones. Yet these can make or break the destiny of the desired outcome.

5. Avoids future problems. If you don’t have time now to diligently follow and complete the checklist, you need to find more time later to fix the problems. And remember, there may be times when mistakes are irreparable, and no matter what you do it is impossible to bring the lives back. In an early Boeing Flying Fortress Bomber (B-299) incident during the 1930s, the plane stalled after takeoff, crashed, and killed two men at the helm, all because someone forget to check the gust locks. This led to the introduction of preflight checklists.

6. Instills discipline. The discipline you learn and character you build from rigorously instilling a checklist habit for yourself is perhaps more valuable than the achievement of completing checklists. In the checklist journey, you will develop a sense of discipline, responsibility, and accountability. If you find this hard to believe, just try it sincerely with a goal of not ticking the boxes but embracing a culture of collaboration and discipline.

7. Simplifies delegation. Checklists make delegation simpler and more effective. When delegating specific tasks, checklists are handy for the other person to understand what is involved. The delegator feels more comfortable and confident about the desired outcomes.

8. More efficient. You can complete repetitive tasks quicker, more efficiently, and with fewer mistakes with checklists. Think about making same parts or performing assembly operations.

9. Your journey is visible. Checklists are like a GPS that helps you locate where you are in the process. When steps are complicated, complex, or simply numerous, checklists keep track of how far you have come and how much more you have to go.

10. Reduces anxiety. Checklists can act as stress and anxiety reducers. Having a checklist gives you piece of mind by ensuring that you have not forgotten or missed a vital step and are on the path of successfully completing the task at hand.

So, the next time someone complains that checklists are boring, routine, onerous, or unimportant, you can show them this list. Ask the person to read it thoroughly with a calm mind and a cup of coffee. Have them add it to their checklist of “things to do today.”

Further reading
Being More Effective: The Benefits of Using Checklists
Three Benefits of Using Checklists
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
The Power of Checklists
Seven management benefits of using a checklist
Eight Important Reasons to Use Checklists in Your Business and Three Ways to Shortcut Your Way to Using Checklists for Success in Your Online Business

Discuss

About The Author

Shobhendu Prabhakar’s picture

Shobhendu Prabhakar

Shobhendu Prabhakar is working with TechnipFMC in a project quality manager role. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, a master’s degree in mechanical design engineering, and a master’s degree in business administration. He is a Jones Scholar (Rice University in Houston) and a certified ISO 9001 lead auditor with 14+ years of professional experience in quality assurance in oil and gas industries. This article does not represent any TechnipFMC position, and it is in no way related to TechnipFMC.

Comments

One drawback to checklists 

One drawback to checklists  is discipline and close supervision. As a QA Supervisor, Engineer, and QMS auditor, I have occasionally found employees doing a number of steps from memory or taking short-cuts,  and then later going back and checking off steps and/or filling in data.

Checklists

When using a checklist, one should think not of the process of checking boxes but of the process of improving the checklist itself.

If you are an expert, you may know of process improvements that should be integrated into the process and thus the checklist.

If you are a neophyte, you are likely to notice where the checklist could make the process clearer.

And if you're a manager, you should take the words of both neophyte and expert seriously as they are the keys to improvement...

Checklists

While I am a big fan of checklists I am not a fan of the way they are often used by managers.  Too often managers want the checklist to present a record of ideal conditions and if a checklist were to indicate a problem they are inclined to punish an employee for failure.  The result is that employees often take a perfunctory approach to performing the checks that underpin the checklist or they simply falsify the data to show only what the manager has implicitly said they want to see.

Checklists are valuable tools and their value should not be undermined by misuse.  They should be used to prevent system failure.  They should be used to identify opportunities for improvement.  They should not be used to identify tergets for criticism.