In this blog, we discuss basic checklists and the importance of implementation in business operations.
If you’ve ever been on a plane, you may have noticed the pilots completing their ‘Pre-flight Checklist,’ which outlines the very basics of plane operation. On my first experience on a private plane, I glanced over at the pilot to see her going through the checklist- turn key on, unlock brakes, etc. It was so simple, I had to ask (rather alarmingly), “Is this the first time you’ve flown!?”, which prompted a laugh and an explanation of how it is required, as much as being able to actually fly.
In Dr. Atul Gawande’s latest book, ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ Dr. Gawande references the 1930’s B-17’s accident in which two pilots lost their lives due to a basic function- the Captain left the elevator lock on- which caused the crash. This prompted the start of flight checklists as we know it today. A full article can be read here.
Dr. Gawande applies this philosophy to medicine and the number of lives they have saved in the operating room and dr.’s offices.
So how does the small business apply this philosophy to their own business? Even when we hear football coaches discuss ‘getting back to the basics’, they are referring to those activities that should be second nature. An acquaintance of mine, Chad Carson, a former Rhodes Scholar candidate and linebacker for Clemson University, told me the story that while reviewing tapes following a game, Chad had moved his foot back a few inches prior to the ball being hiked, resulting in a nice ‘scolding’ from his coach. Chad now is a successful entrepreneur, real estate investor and trainer with his own site.
One of the most common operating problems I find in small- and large- organizations is not having the right process, procedures and tools in the right place at the right time. If you own a mechanics shop, plumbing, electrical business or any type of organization, you have experienced re-work or wait times. Think of a time you either left a tool at a job site or did not have the right tools on sight, resulting in sending employees back to collect or retrieve. If you have three crews out in the field full time, and once per week you experience this, you are potentially losing five figures per year with lost time in salaries, gas, work loss, etc.
In the manufacturing environment, this is realized in numerous ways- late start-ups, delayed changeovers, machine downtime, etc. If you are performing high volume with multiple machines, the lost dollars can be very large. All of which could be avoided with a simple checklist ensuring all the right tools, procedures and people are in the right place at the right time. The most disconcerting thing I see, as that this is repeated and actually ‘accepted’ as part of human behavior- “People make mistakes.”
The actual development of the checklists is quite simple, and takes little time to complete- you are simply writing down what you already know should happen, in order, with the tools required. Your key employees are the ones who should be part of creating the lists.
Once created, the next step is the actual execution, which can be problematic at first. Keep in mind; you will require employees to complete a checklist for something they have been performing for possibly decades. They may take the idea of having to ‘justify what they already do as a slight to them and mistrust. There are two steps to overcome this and ensure the checklists become part of your organization:
One- gain their buy-in. As mentioned before, they should be the ones to be a part of the checklist development, as they are the experts. Provide real examples of how much time is lost and how much money is wasted, in the form of “We lose xx amount of dollars on average having to do rework, go back and collect tools”, etc. If net is part of their bonus package, share this with them.
Two- accountability. You have to ingrain this as part of their work process- just as much as making widgets. You may have to hold people accountable through your disciplinary process to set the tone, but once it is ingrained, it will be adopted as part of the culture. I have often seen organizations put checklists in place, but fail to hold people accountable for performing, beyond telling them they need to do it. And the behavior continues, as there are no ramifications for not doing so.
As they come, use examples of how they have helped- if you averaged a changeover time of 30 minutes historically, but because you had the checklists it is now averaging 20 minutes, be sure and make a point of communicating.
While simple, checklists are often overlooked and underutilized. Once you gain the behavior of asking ‘what can we do to prevent that from recurring’ and often that is having a checklist, you will see the gains in time saved, productivity and profit for your organization.
At Cogent Analytics, we never stop looking for ways to improve your business and neither should you. So, check out some of our other posts for helpful business information: