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Checklists: Useful, or just a ‘tick in the box’ exercise?

Some people tell me that they don’t use checklists because:

  1. People just tick the boxes without actually ‘checking’ before ticking
  2. They know how to do their job and don’t need a checklist…and they even consider the checklist demeaning.

My opinion is that checklists serve a valuable purpose, and I’m glad that whenever I board a plane, I know that the pilot and co-pilot go through a checklist, and actually check each item, not just tick the box.  Here, we all know that the oversight of not checking a particular box could have devastating consequences.   It doesn’t mean that checklists are always necessary.  I never use one when I hop in my car and put on my seatbelt.

However, checklists are also very useful when one person does part of a job and hands it over to another person to complete, for example, when handing over from dayshift to nightshift. It acts as a clear form of communication and avoids the next shift having to guess what’s been done or not, and either omitting a task or duplicating it.

I’ve also seen many cases where a truck is loaded and sent off to an interstate customer, only to find an hour or two after the truck has left that there’s a critical component that was not loaded onto the truck. Doh! Not again!  Or, worse still, parts for Customer A in the far West were put on the truck for Customer B in the far North and vice-versa. Doh! Doh! Doh! Doh!

If there is a good reason to use a checklist and the issue is that people are ticking without checking, then that’s no reason to abandon the checklist. It simply means you have a different problem to solve…but that’s a matter for another post.