The Life of a Checklist…

Who Needs a Checklist?

So who needs a checklist anyway, come on we are grown adults here and we know what we are doing so why burden us with checklists?  The simple reason is a “checklist” grounds us in reality allowing a connection between the desired goals and the actions needed to get us there as the complexity of the world increases it’s hard to keep everything in “perspective“.  It’s also this magic word, “perspective” which is also important as we “humans” tend to weight things in reference to or perceived notion of the world forming yes you guessed it our “perceptions“.

As if we were to analogize with an airline example (since I spend so much time on planes) is if the pilot left to his devices may believe the front landing gear is more important than the nut that holds the rear elevator (the thing which makes the plane go up and down) on.  As the landing gear is you would agree is far more “sexy” then that little nut hidden in the back of the plane right?  Well now you begin to see that all perceptions are not created equal and in the area “repeated task achievement” consistency is far more important than innovation also.   As hey, do you want your pilot to be an out of the box thinking kind of person pushing the envelope to risk your life just to get in 10 minutes early and still have to wait for a gate?

Well my answer is not, as here in cases such as these, repeatability is far more valuable than innovation as the risk reward equation (which is zero sum) focuses on distribution, so therefore my personal preference is to bet on the side where time is traded for safety as we know at 36,000 feet there isn’t a lot of road side to pull off onto should one find themselves with a lost elevator.

So with the importance having been established, lets return and look at our friend the checklist to better how it works as we’ve just plied the waters of why it works.  The first step in this adventure is to understand that “checklists” come in two primary forms and while the words sound close they are importantly different.  The first one we will look at is “Read-Do” as the pilot is walking around and preparing the plane for flight he is “doing” things such as inspecting that elevator nut.  As he checks (do) he marks the inspection (action)  as complete.  It’s also worth noting this  form of list can be both proactive as well as reactive as in our example, the pilot used it to “perform & confirm” his inspection.  He can also use it in the case of a reactive situation as Captain Sully did in the ill-fated US Airways flight which found itself in the Hudson safely.  It’s also worth noting that the “Read-Do” format is a first person task list. As the person who is reading the list, is typically “doing” the task as well as reporting out.

The second form and the bit harsher application sociologically is “Do-Confirm”  where the “Confirm” is the follow up to the “Do” as in a surgical suite where a medical assistant “Confirms” that all the instruments which were used at the start of the procedure are accounted for and not accidentally left in the body cavity.  As mentioned prior, “Do-Confirm” lists create a bit of social awkwardness as it forms a challenge – response framework between two social classes as in this case the doctor and the medical tech which can lead to resistance in its use.  It’s also worth pointing out that “Do-Confirm”   can also be used as a quality control measure for “Read-Do” as a double check initiated by a second party as the always loved “Four Eyes” principle…


About Joseph Campbell

As a strong believer in the fact that "people work for people", it has been a life driver to better to understand the complexities of the various aspects which drive efficiency within this axiom, especially the concepts of leadership. Supporting this, I have been fortunate enough to having experienced this as leader on a global basis over the last decade and half. During this time it has been clear there are three core drivers being Life, Leadership and Economics.
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2 Responses to The Life of a Checklist…

  1. The Hook says:

    Nice analysis of something thatseems so simple but really isn’t. Well done!

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