There are good and bad checklists.
Features of bad checklists:
- too long
- hard to use
- treat people who use the checklist as dumb by trying to spell out every step
- turn people's brains off rather than turn them on
Features of good checklists:
- to the point
- easy to use even in the most difficult situations
- don't try to spell out everything
- provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps
While checklists are useful in solving problems, there are limitations. Checklists can help you navigate through complex tasks and complicated projects by making priorities clearer and prompt people to function better as a team. However, checklists cannot force people to follow the steps.
When you're making a checklist, you have several key decisions:
- you must define a clear pause point at which the checklist is supposed to be used
- Decide the nature of the checklist: is it a DO-CONFIRM checklist or a READ-DO checklist.
- For DO-CONFIRM checklist, team members perform their tasks from memory and experience. Then they pause to run the checklist and confirm that everything that was supposed to be done was done.
- For READ-DO checklist, people carry out the tasks as they check them off, like a recipe.
- If you're creating a new checklist, pick the type that makes the most sense for the situation.
- Keep the checklist between five and nine items, which is the limit of working memory, but this can change depending on the context.