What Is It? Check.

Last month I posted a riddle – if you did not see it then check it out before continuing to read: What Is It?

Thanks also to all the emails and smart (but not quite correct) guesses like attitude, strategy, leverage, networking etc …

The short answer to the riddle is The Checklist. And if you hear yourself say, “Ah, I thought it was something more interesting…checklists are for the confused…” then you are on your way to confirming point 4 in dismissing it.

In 1935, Boeing almost went bankrupt if not for the checklist. As A. Gawande tells the story in his Checklist Manifesto, their new bomber B-17, dubbed “flying fortress”, crashed at the first test flight. Being the largest most powerful bomber ever built the B-17 was, as one journalist put it, “too much airplane for one man to fly”. After the shocking crash, the U.S. ordered planes from Boeing’s competitor. Later, still believing in the Flying Fortress, U.S. pilots came back with a takeoff checklist to help pilots go through all the crucial steps of a safe take off.  The U.S. then ordered 13,000 B-17, which gave the U.S. a decisive air advantage in WWII.

In 2008 The World Health Organisation introduced a 19-point pre-surgery checklist into hospitals worldwide: the result was major complications dropped by one third and death rates cut in half (even in developed countries).

Many famous investors make multi-million dollar investment decisions much faster than their peers and with far better returns on investments. Using a checklist system they can filter through all investment opportunities they come across each day. One investor from a multi-billion dollar investment fund told A. Gawande I find it amazing other investors have not even bothered to try [a checklist].

In my current thinking, I put most checklists into two groups (or a combination of):

Memory Checklists

Like a cooking recipe, these checklists are mainly used for activities that involve a list of known items or actions. These can be for preparing an airplane for take off or preparing the operating room for brain surgery. Sometimes long and elaborate, these checklists can only be used when the outcome is not time critical, like when there is a customer waiting at the end of the line, or when an airplane engine suddenly stops in mid air.

The next group of checklists comes in use when it is time critical.

Designer Checklists

These checklists must be designed to be practical and easy to use, to achieve their one (and only one) purpose in the quickest possible way. They are commonly (not always) used in diagnosis situations. For instance, the Boeing checklist for engine failure during flight is only 7 practical, clearly stated and actionable points, and has saved 1000’s of lives so far … Good Designer Checklists are like your GPS for the shortest route to the results you want.

They may also seem deceptively simple to build. Because of their simplicity every point counts a huge deal. Every point usually covers a complex array of interconnected and critical issues

How simple and powerful is this Checklist?

This is my 3-point Designer Checklist I call the Workforce Engagement Checklist (borrowed from Outliers by M. Gladwell). It tells me, so far without fail, whether each employee of any client of mine has a fulfilling job:

  1. Complexity:  Is he/she challenged in his/her role?
  2. Autonomy: Is he/she only accountable to the results of her work without the need to be ‘seen’ at her desk even when she is not busy? (Trusted?)
  3. Effort-Reward Connection: Can he/she predict with confidence what rewards/recognition will be after delivery as agreed?

Voila! If I find any NO answer to any of these three questions, I know where to look. Ironically millions are still spent on consultants to come out with exactly the same answers as in this 3-point checklist.

To borrow the analogy of the Flying Fortress “..too much airplane”, do you have ‘too much business’ for you to operate? Then Check!

(N.B. my next post is about and how your customers will love you more when you ignore what they tell you. It is one point in my 4-point Customer Satisfaction Charter! Stay tuned and Check!)

Related Posts

What Is It?
The Power of Checklists