Secret Weapon: Checklists

[starbox]One of the first things I learned in the Boy Scouts was the use of checklists to make sure things weren’t forgotten for camping trips. The Scouts were very big on checklists; every activity and merit badge had a checklist or two associated with it. Following checklists soon became second nature.

So why was I was a bit surprised that a book on checklists became a best seller? Atul Gawande’s, The Checklist Manifesto, recounts his development of checklists for the World Health Organization, which were heralded as the “greatest clinical advance in 30 years.” How can an idea as old as a checklist be such a breakthrough?

We have all heard horror stories of arrogant surgeons cutting off the wrong leg. Gawande’s book has accounts of other fields with checklists to counter “stupid and preventable errors.” As entertaining as it is to hear about the problems others create for themselves, it is more important that we shine a light on our own activities and apply the same sort of discipline.

When I was younger I did not fully appreciate the need to have a checklist in my hand, and to physically check items off as they were completed. Relying on my memory worked well for many years; then — all of a sudden — it didn’t. And the error was very public and very embarrassing.

These days I won’t go to the grocery store without a checklist. I keep a scrap of paper around with my “plan for the day.” Out in the garage the race car has a wipe off board in the cockpit for the tasks that remain to be done. I once chuckled over our ISO 9000 manual’s “List of Lists;” now I “get it.”

If you think about the errors you or your team have made lately you might want to consider developing a few checklists of your own.

About Charles D. Schultz 644 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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