How Checklists May Help to Move Past Human Error-Checklist Series Part 3

This is the third blog post in a series of 3. If you missed the first one you may find it here and if you missed the second one you may find it here. In the first post I described some of my experiences using operational checklists in aviation. In the second post I described some of the major challenges and hurdles associated with checklists and how to address those challenges to help develop checklists so they will be usable, while working to avoid a “check the box” mentality. In this third and final post I will conclude the series with some recommendations and actionable next steps.

1. Think of some recent examples of failures or challenges either you or your teams have experienced in the workplace and start inquiring about the environment and context of the failure. Ask the people involved about their perspective. Were their errors? Were people blamed for the error or did the accident/incident investigation (if there was one) state the cause as "human error?" What were the conditions that shaped the error or actions that eventually led to failure? What controls were used and were there failures in these controls? Were there system failures beyond human error? (Oftentimes there system failures and human error is used as a cause rather than examining the failures at a deeper level). Even if the failure was not a large scale one try not to be dismissive. There may be opportunities for learning from small events. As you think through the process ask whether or not a checklist may have helped in the situation. I have found that in many cases organizations don’t consider checklists for many routine tasks and rely heavily on human memory and task proficiency. Of course, task proficiency is a foundational element for organizational performance, but sometimes error-provocative environments can degrade task performance and can lead to distractions. Checklists may be a tool to help.

2. Many times we focus so much on studying failure that we don’t study success and learn from it. So, using the opposite approach from above, find some examples of successes, where teams had successful performance, despite the challenges they faced in the work environment. Ask what they did that helped them achieve successful outcomes. Ask about the context of the work, the conditions, and the operational environment. Then, as you break down each area, consider asking these teams if they think a checklist could help them to build repeatable performance while avoiding the “check the box” mentality.

3. If you believe that checklists may help in the situations above, start researching methods for developing checklists. If you would like some guidance on how to develop checklists,

There are also some potentially useful resources, including Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right that may help you gain some understanding about checklists.  I also include a discussion about checklists in my book Team Leadership in High-Hazard Environments: Performance, Safety and Risk Management Strategies for Operational Teams. If you want a FREE copy of the Intro chapter, click here. Additionally, I recently created a signup form to test potential customer interest in a checklist development online training event with a checklist development eBook. Based on the favorable responses, at this point it looks like we will be moving forward with the development. If you want to learn how to take your teams, crews, and organizations to higher levels of performance, and want to receive information when the course and book are available, please click this link or click on the eBook cover image below. You will also receive a free checklist guidance document as an immediate download.

I hope this series of posts about checklists has been helpful. While not exhaustive in nature, these posts were designed to help you gain clarity about checklists, their capabilities and limitations, and how they may be used to improve operations and safety performance. Do you have an operations or safety performance issue you would like me to address in a future post? Let me know by filling out this one-question survey.

Thanks for reading, and have a great, safe, and productive day.