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Monday, March 26, 2012

The Checklist

While working with a client on a leadership performance development project, the company owner requested that we incorporate the performance behaviors we targeted as imperative into a standard of work process and chart that a former lean consultant had developed for their team leaders.   

They weren’t currently utilizing the standard of work, and the owner felt like it was a tool that should be used.  When I first looked at the chart, my immediate thought was how unbelievably micro-managing! The standard of work charted a daily schedule, in some cases, down to five minute increments.  I secretly wondered how these team leaders found the time to go to the restroom if they followed it.   And I vocally expressed my concern over the risk that this standard of work might prohibit innovative thinking on the part of the team leaders because it was so confining.   

We did modify the standard of work chart based on the clients request, making it less confining and incorporating key leadership behaviors into the process.  I still went away, however, skeptical of the idea of such a strenuous standard of work.   However, while listening a sermon last week I was struck by new way of thinking about the importance of tools for guiding our behavior on the job, whether it defined as standards of work, checklists or job aids.

The minister began his sermon by talking about the book The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, explaining the author’s key point: checklists improve outcomes.   Whether it be surgeons working through a checklist prior to surgery or pilots prior to takeoff, checklists help even those who are the most expert or educated avoid costly mistakes.   

Here are some key points and changed ways of thinking I took away:
1.       In an increasingly complex world and work environment, checklists help provide the structure needed to make sure things aren’t missed.  They focus our efforts.
2.       A checklist or standard of work should start with first things first.  An example?  The first thing on a surgeon’s checklist- wash your hands.  The first thing on the team leaders in a manufacturing setting I referenced, check production outcomes required for the day.  
3.       One item should naturally flow to the next item. 
4.       Don’t make assumptions that people know they need to do a certain item and leave it off the checklist if the item is imperative to successful to performance.   Don’t leave “Wash your hands” off the surgeon’s checklist just because it seems to be common sense that it should be done.
5.       Checklists help us create positive habits.  Eventually the checklist isn’t even necessary it is so engrained in the way we behave.
6.       And finally, checklists should help us focus on relationships to other people, not hamper our interaction with others.  
7.       Checklists not an end, but a means to an end resulting better performance.

Why you may ask did a church sermon focus on checklists? Exodus 20:3-17. The 10 Commandments.  A checklist for living.  It focuses our efforts, puts first things first, one item naturally flows to the other, it makes no assumptions that the Israelites and us already knew that, it helps us create positive habits,  and focuses on how we should interact and treat other people.  

How have checklists or standards of work helped make you more successful at work and in life?

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