The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande is one of the best books I’ve read. The book has interesting stories about Wal-Mart’s response to Hurricane Katrina, and David Lee Roth’s demand that all brown M&M’s be removed from his bowl in his dressing room.
There are two types of Checklists a DO-CONFIRM and READ-DO. Below is an excerpt from the book.
When you’re making a checklist, (Daniel) Boorman explained, you have a number of key decisions. You must define a clear pause point at which the checklist is supposed to be used (unless the moment is obvious, like when a warning light goes on or an engine fails). You must decide whether you want a DO-CONFIRM checklist or a READ-DO checklist. With a DO-CONFIRM checklist, he said, team members perform their jobs from memory and experience, often separately: But then they stop. They pause to run the checklist and confirm that everything that was supposed to be done was done. With a READ-DO checklist, on the other hand, people carry out the tasks as they check them off-it’s more like a recipe. So for any new checklist created from scratch, you have to pick the type that makes the most sense for the situation.
The checklist cannot be lengthy: A rule of thumb some use is to keep it to between five and nine items, which is the limit of working memory. Boorman didn’t think one had to be religious on this point.
“It all depends on the context,” he said. “In some situations you have only twenty seconds. In others, you may have several minutes.”
But after about sixty to ninety seconds at a given pause point, the checklist often becomes a distraction from other things. People start “shortcutting.” Steps get missed. So you want to keep the list short by focusing on what he called “the killer items” –the steps that are most dangerous to skip and sometimes overlooked nonetheless. (Data establishing which steps are most critical and how frequently people miss them are highly coveted in aviation, though not always available.)
The wording should be simple and exact, Boorman went on, and use the familiar language of the profession. Even the look of the checklist matters. Ideally; it should fit on one page. It should be free of clutter and unnecessary colors. It should use both uppercase and lowercase text for ease of reading.
I would like to start sharing checklists for the building industry. Below is a PDF containing a checklist for making a checklist and a Window-Door checklist (Form). Please leave any comments you’re interested in sharing.