checklistSeveral years ago, a medical surgeon, Atul Gawande, wrote a best-selling book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, that discusses the advantages of using checklists in all types of activities from surgery to disaster recovery to business.

As leaders, we need to follow his advice and use checklists regularly to help improve our companies.


Why Checklists?

  1. Checklists allow us to remember. In today’s world with all the distractions and information overload, it is vital that we remember and use the knowledge and insight of what we have already learned.  As the Japanese lean expert Shigeo Shingo writes:

 “We use checklists so as not to forget that we have forgotten.”

  1. Checklists ensure that we follow processes correctly. By checking off the different tasks in a process, we can ensure that we do not miss a step and thus complete the process correctly.
  2. Checklists are fundamental to continuous improvement. By using checklists, we do not need to re-invent the wheel every time we do a process or consider a strategy.  Instead, we can use a checklist to remind us of all of our past learnings from both successes and failures.


When to Use Checklists?

In a previous blog, I wrote about Think Twice and Do Once.  Checklists are fundamental to this principle as checklists help us to systematize our thinking and remind us of all that we already know.

  1. Use a checklist before starting a new task, especially a task that is performed infrequently
  2. Use a checklist before performing a vital task, especially one where the downside is severe
  3. Use a checklist for a detailed or complex process
  4. Use a checklist as a learning aid for an inexperienced employee
  5. Use a checklist as a reminder


How to Use Checklists?

  1. Keep them short: Checklists only work when they are used. A short, one-page checklist of the key series of tasks or of reminders may not be entirely comprehensive.  But, the checklist will give enough insight or reminders to be valuable.
  2. Keep them simple: Checklists need to be understood by the wide range of employees that will use them.
  3. Keep them specific: We should maintain a library of many different checklists for a variety of specific tasks and activities.
  4. Keep them fluid: Checklists should not be cast in stone. Instead, we need to ensure that they are constantly updated to reflect new processes, new ideas or new lessons learned.
  5. Keep using them: Review checklists every time we are starting a new activity to ensure that the processes are followed and/or the best ideas are considered.



Checklists protects us from ourselves and our absent-mindedness and forgetfulness.

“Forgetfulness is part of our human condition.  We think that because we can remember that we will remember.  Yet, we all know that even a small distraction is enough for us to forget.” Hal Macomber

In the end, using a checklist reduces the risk to our company by ensuring that we correctly follow a process, avoid making the same mistake twice, and remember all the valuable lessons already learned.



About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Improve / Turnaround, Perform / Execution, Sales and Marketing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Checklists

  1. justine shedd shaffner says:

    Totally agree David. I don’t know how people live without checklists. Trusting your memory may be good for avoiding dementia, but it’s not good or wise business practice.

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