The Global Manufacturer

The Amazing Power of Checklists

In the May 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, productivity guru David Allen discusses the value of creating lists, an underpinning of his "Getting Things Done" system . Simply put, we need lists, Allen says, because our brains aren't good at keeping them. He notes: "Your mind is this dumb little computer that will wake you up at 3:00 AM and beat you bloody over stuff you can't do spit about while you're lying there."

By coincidence, I had just finished reading "The Checklist Manifesto" by Atul Gawande, a surgeon who explored the value of creating checklists to help deal with a world where the "volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely or reliably."

Gawande tells the story of how a checklist was introduced into operating rooms at Johns Hopkins Hospital to try to reduce the incidence of central line infections. A critical care specialist named Peter Pronovost created a simple 5-step checklist of well-known steps to follow such as the doctors washing their hands with soap.Nurses were given the task of enforcing adherence to the procedures. After a year, they found that the checklist had "prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths and saved two million dollars in costs."

Gawande examines in vivid detail how checklists have been instrumental in improving processes and results for building construction, flight safety, emergency response and investments, as well as other areas in medicine.

Looking through a number of recent books on my shelves about management and lean manufacturing, it was difficult to find any that didn't have a generous offering of checklists in one form or another. These checklists help us take sometimes complicated processes and boil them down to the minimum steps necessary. They offer a handy aid to memory and a way to standardize the right steps in the right order. In a world that seems increasingly complex, checklists are an underappreciated tool but one with growing value.

If you find the use of checklists valuable in your business, drop us a note and let us know how you are employing them.

TAGS: The Economy
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