The Power of Digital Checklists in Operations

Brian Carpizo

December 1, 2020
digital checklists in operations

Digital Checklists - The Next Killer App for Operations?

Large businesses, institutions, and service providers are complicated machines where continuous and simultaneous management of all the moving parts is essential to continued function. It is a complex juggling act often implemented through unreliable tribal knowledge and snippets of emails and documents. In today’s Digital Transformation age, could electronic checklists be the killer app for operations?

From the top-down, organization is key to running a successful business. Checklists are one of the best tools out there to help those at the top know that everyone further down the chain is completing the duties assigned to them. 

Checklists are a great tool for assisting someone in their work because they reduce the cognitive load, guiding the end-user through the “what” while focusing their intellect on the “how”. It also creates objective criteria for what is “done” and sets the standard for consistent execution.

Checklists - A Shared Ownership of Responsibility

Working culture has shifted in recent decades to include every employee in the decision-making process surrounding their job and their tasks. Tasks are no longer just assigned; they are discussed as we ask for continued feedback about the employee experience. Along these lines, checklists provide benefits to both the employee and the employer.

The employee finds benefit in the checklist from a reduced cognitive load by not having to recall a long list of tasks, allowing them to better apply themselves to the task at hand. They can also consider what they’re doing as they’re doing it and, potentially, develop suggestions for improvement.

The employer benefits from checklists by having an established, standard baseline for how things are done. Once following checklists becomes a habit, the employer now has a powerful tool for implementing change at scale. One change can ripple through the organization (much faster if implemented digitally).

Together, the employee and employer can find new levels of operational excellence that comes from the discipline imposed by checklists. As Atul Gawande, the prominent surgeon and author of the seminal book “The Checklist Manifesto” states: 

“What is needed, however, isn't just that people working together be nice to each other. It is discipline. Discipline is hard--harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can't even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.”
Atul Gawande
Author, The Checklist Manifesto

Checklist Benefits

Here’s a shortlist of some of the most noticeable and wide-reaching benefits of checklists:

  1. Provide Organization. Checklists ensure that the end-user and their time are organized most practically and efficiently as possible. It also reduces the user’s cognitive load, providing them with a tried and tested method to use to ensure that they don’t miss a step.
  2. Increase Motivation. As someone completes tasks with more efficiency and greater efficacy, they naturally become motivated to improve themselves in their work further. The reduction in the employee’s cognitive load means that they’ll also have more energy and enthusiasm to complete new tasks handed down.
  3. They Delegate. Checklists are the silent delegators of a well-run business. The employees who use them do not feel like they’re being told what to do by a superior; they’re objective, fair, and omnipresent. In return, employers can be assured that tasks are being completed without a heavy amount of input on their part.
  4. Promote Creativity. Checklists tell the user what they’re meant to be doing, what comes next, and what comes after that. This frees up their headspace and allows them to consider things other than just the task at hand while they’re working.
The First Checklist Used for Aviation - 1935

What Makes a Great Checklist

Checklists must be well constructed to have the desired effects. Great checklists have the following characteristics:

  1. To The Point. They’re not full of fluff and are direct and clear in the way tasks are outlined and worded. This also means that they don’t spell out everything; they exclude the obvious and unnecessary details.
  2. Easy to Use. They’re laid out so that they are easy to follow, and anyone can pick them up and use them.
  3. Highlight Important Steps. Great checklists ensure that they focus on the most important tasks, helping to guide the end-users.
  4. Field-Tested. Nothing should be deployed out in the field without being tested first. The best checklists are rigorously tested and reviewed before being deployed to the end-user.
  5. Periodically Reviewed. Everything evolves, and checklists and the tasks contained within are no different. Periodical review by the employer with the end-user means that checklists are up to date and always relevant. Such reviews also help to foster feelings of ownership and involvement in the end-user.

Why Digital Checklists?

While we at TrustPlace love all checklists, even paper ones – we think that digital checklists are the most powerful. Why?

  • Instantly publish updates
  • Digitally log activity and results (notes, etc)
  • Provide contextual information

TrustPlace provides digital checklists for all types of reoccurring operational tasks. You can assign checklists to individuals or teams – and when the checklist is complete, it is there for all to see along with its corresponding log of activity. And for even more power, TrustPlace provides contextual information in the form of Reference Cards attached to Checklists and/or Checklist Items. 

Request a demo today and find out how you can utilize digital checklists to drive more effective operations and improve compliance.

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