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Checklists: A Simple Tool with Complex Benefits

The volume and complexity of our knowledge has exceeded our ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely and reliably. Checklists can help us navigate this complexity and avoid harmful mistakes.

July 2014 By Wes Friesen
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"Everywhere I looked, the evidence seemed to point to the same conclusion. There seemed to be no field or profession where checklists will not help."

—Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto

Looking for a simple tool that will drive your operation to higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness? The checklist may be what you are looking for.

I recently read Atul Gawande's book The Checklist Manifesto, which inspired me to read real-life examples from the medical, construction, aviation and finance fields to show how checklists—coupled with timely and effective teamwork—can vastly improve the quality and effectiveness of what we do. In some cases, they can make the difference between life or death.

Gawande is a surgeon, and he shared how he and his team developed a two-minute checklist that covered some basics for surgery (e.g., do we have enough blood and antibiotics?), as well as some basics for good teamwork (e.g., does everyone in the operating room know the name of each person in the room?). They then tested these lists in eight different hospitals. The results were stunning. When they took the time to make introductions and follow the checklist, they had a 35 percent decline in deaths and complications related to surgery.

The problem is that mistakes are being made that harm people and our organizations. Why? The reality is that our know-how and sophistication have increased remarkably across almost all our realms of endeavor, and as a result so has our struggle to deliver on them.

You see it in the frequent mistakes authorities make when hurricanes, tornadoes or other disasters hit. You see it in the increase in lawsuits against attorneys for legal mistakes—the most common being simple administrative errors, like missed calendar dates and clerical screw ups, as well as errors in applying the law. You see it in flawed software design, in foreign intelligence failures, in our tottering banks—in fact, in almost any endeavor requiring complexity and significant amounts of knowledge.

The communication world—including print, mail and e-communications—has not been exempt from errors. We have recently seen a large company mistakenly mail out thousands of mail pieces with sensitive customer information. Unfortunately, information was sent to the wrong customers and a security breach transpired. Sad to say, this example within our industry is not an isolated one.

 

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