Using Checklists to Get Things Right

By Susan Cisco posted 10-08-2010 08:45


My colleague, Karen Strong, urged me to read The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, a surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Karen liked the approach of using checklists as a technique for improving outcomes with no increase in skills. I took her advice and read the book.

Since I am crusading for records management professionals to be held accountable for simplifying records management, checklists can be a cost-effective technique for applying best practices consistently on a day-by-day basis.  According to Gawande, they need to be one page in length and use between five and nine items (“the limit of working memory”).  A sans serif type like Helvetica is recommended as is using both uppercase and lower case text for ease of reading. Also you don’t need to spell out everything in a checklist, but rather reminders of only the most important steps.

In the book, surgeons used checklists to reduce deaths and complications by more than 1/3 in eight hospitals. Pilots have been using pre-flight checklists since the 1930s. Captain Sullenberger and his crew followed checklists in successfully landing the U.S. Airways Flight 1549 aircraft in the Hudson River from the moment the birds were ingested into the plane’s engines until all passengers had been evacuated.

How could we apply the checklist technique to records management? Here are some processes that could use checklists to make sure that simple steps are not missed or skipped:

  • Applying and releasing legal holds
  • Disposing of records
  • Decommissioning a shared drive repository
  • Auto-provisioning a SharePoint site
  • Sending physical records to off-site storage

Seems easy enough, but there’s a catch. Gawande observed that some people thought using a checklist was somewhat beneath them. This means there could be a change management effort involved; however, Gawande provides advice for that, too:

  • Regularly test and refine checklists in the real world
  • Present the checklist as a tool for people to improve their results
  • Then track results before and after the checklists are implemented - number of errors, rework, etc.

David Weinberg in KMWorld agrees checklists can successfully reduce complexity one step at a time but cautions that “we like lists beyond their utility.”   So let checklists do what they do best - encapsulate knowledge and best practices while remaining engaged with the records management compliance challenges at hand.

#electronic records management #Records-Management #ElectronicRecordsManagement