Monday, June 07, 2010

Writing a good checklist

My last post from Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Bad checklists are vague, imprecise, too long, hard to use and impractical. They are typically written by people sitting in offices and treat the user as "dumb." They "turn people's brains off rather than turn them on."

Good checklists are the opposite. The provide reminders for the most critical and important steps, that even a highly skilled person could miss. Most importantly, they are practical in assisting people manage complex situations by making priorities clear. They have their limitations, and need to be perfected through use.

According to Dan Boorman of Boeing you have to decide what is going to prompt the use of a checklist and what type of checklist is required. The two main types are:
1. Do then confirm - people do the steps from memory then stop and go through the checklist to make sure they have not forgotten anyting
2. Read then do - people follow through the checklist like a recipe, ticking steps off as they do them.

The rule of thumb is to have 6 to 9 items on a checklist (but this can depend on circumstances). Ideally it should fit on one page and be free of clutter and unnecessary colour. Use familiar language. Overall, you have to make sure your checklist achieves the balance between providing help whilst not becoming a distraction from other things.

Gawande uses an example of a checklist for an engine failure on a single engined aircraft. It only has six steps, but the number step is "fly the plane." It has been found that pilots can be so desperate to restart the engine they become fixated and forget to do what they can to survive without an engine.

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