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Business Systems Blog

Have an interest in business systems, developing operations manuals, or maybe just making things work properly in your business? This blog focuses on systems – having the right person doing the right thing the right way at the right time. The blogs you read here will cover different aspects of systems – how to create them, how to help people to use them, how to use systems to cut your business inefficiency and build the bottom line. All that and often more. Click on the RSS icon right here on this page to be notified when we add new blog articles.

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The Value of Checklists

John Tonkin - Thursday, February 11, 2010

I recently listened to a very interesting Harvard Business IdeaCast by Atul Gawande on the preventive power of a well thought-out checklist. (Using Checklists to Prevent Failure). The author uses a couple of examples to illustrate how a good checklist can help us non-experts deal with an unexpected situation or, and this is where I see huge value, provide competence beyond what anyone could reasonably expect to achieve through training.

Tasks that would typically only be performed by ‘experts’ now become do-able by a non-expert equipped with a checklist. This is pretty much what Michael Gerber says (have a look at p101 of the E-Myth Revisited where he explains how systems allow an ordinary person to do extraordinary things).

Gawande moves on to talk about his team’s use of the checklist in an operating theatre, both as a pre-op planning tool and as a post-op check-off to make sure that all those swabs and things that went in also came out.

So how do we rate the humble checklist? Put very simply, they’re an essential tool for any systemised business. Checklists (a Prop in the Brain in a Box 4 P’s methodology), is one of a range of tools that you can use to streamline a process and minimise inefficiency. What a checklist won’t do (as Gawande also mentions) is to instruct the user on how to complete a task. That’s the role of Process and Procedure. And a checklist isn’t giving you any help with the Policy that backs up the process, either.

So while there’s always going to be a role for checklists in every systemised business, our experience is that you’ll need all of the 4 P’s (Policy, Process, Procedure and Props) working in harmony to have a ‘system’ that guides, instructs and monitors performance in your business.

How does this fit with what you’re doing in your business right now? Should you be more focused on helping your team to do what you want them to do by building strong systems?