Professionals use checklists – do you?

I am sitting at the airport waiting for a delayed cross-country flight to deliver a leadership course to a group of police officers tomorrow.

Luckily, my pre-travel checklist means that, while I am parted from my luggage, I am still able to work. If needs be, I can still deliver tomorrow’s training with what I have in my carry-on bag. Most of what I will need will be in the training room when I arrive tomorrow morning. While I have a change of clothes and personal items in my overnight bag, I always have essentials and necessities in my laptop rucksack. These include:

  • Hard & soft copies of the run sheet, facilitator and participant workbooks;
  • All supporting materials, clients contacts and travels documents;
  • My trusty bag of assorted AV adaptors, cables and dongles;
  • Mini-wash kit and spare underwear – in case of delays or lost luggage.

Just as importantly, when travelling with only carry-on bags I need to ensure I leave certain things behind. These include all non-essential notebooks & materials, portable backup hard drives and my trusty Swiss Army knife (as forgetting and having them confiscated has become an expensive mistake).

To help me remember what I need to take and leave behind, I use a checklist but, as a professional who knows his business and tried and trusted travel routine, should I really need one? In his book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, surgeon Atul Gawande explored the value of checklists in a number of professions and repeatedly found that they can be an effective answer for forgetfulness, complexity and unforeseen changes.

In the operating room, Gawande and his team use a two-minute checklist to prepare for surgery – ensuring swift access to the right medicines, blood and plasma – as well as some key essentials for effective collaboration – making sure that, behind the masks, the assembled team know each other by name. Incredibly, in a measured study in eight different hospitals, simple pre-surgery team introductions delivered a 35% decline in deaths and complications in surgery.

While 80% of the surgeons involved said they would continue to use Gawnade’s checklist, the other 20% remained said the checklists didn’t add value and wasted time. However, when asked if they would want a surgeon to use the checklist if they were the patient, 94% of those resisters said they would!

Creating checklists for routine processes and procedures makes sense. They allow us to act swiftly and confidently.  Creating checklists for complex situations – like performing brain surgery or flying a plane – can make a crucial difference since these are the times when we are most uncertain about how to proceed and lack the capacity to assess & decide.  In these cases, checklists can help establish facts, eliminate concerns and provide clarity.

Gawande thinks many professionals are resistant to using checklists because professionals and experts have a hard time admitting their own fallibility – let me know what do you think.

[Note: posted after the flight, as my flight was called while writing!]

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