11 February 2009

The power of checklists

According to an Ian Wylie in the FT, implementation of the co-pilot's checklist for emergency landings may have contributed to the recent safe landing of a US Airways flight on the Hudson River. Wylie describes how checklists have also reduced the incidence of post-operative wound infections by focusing surgeons on basic procedures that might be missed due to time pressure and distractions. Checklists are now being applied to financial management - maybe a little too late.

The article gives a checklist for compiling checklists from Peter Pronovost, who has introduced checklist culture into many organisations. They sound so obvious but it's easy to understand how this kind of simplification may initially appear difficult to implement in many work contexts:

- Seek out relevant guidelines or an evidence summary - if one does not exist, tap into the "wisdom of crowds" by canvassing views from diverse sources.
- Compile a list of potential actions.
- Select those with the strongest impact and the lowest barriers to use.
- Translate each action into an explicit, concise and unambiguous behaviour.
- Use simple, direct and unambiguous language.
- Insert a "challenge and response" if a second person needs to verify that each item has been completed.
- Keep it short - if necessary, separate the process into substeps and create a checklist for each one.
- Review it often - checklists must be dynamic and evolve in light of new evidence.

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