I am a list writer. Milk, cheese, bread, beer. I inherited this trait from my mother. She has lists for her lists, well almost. She has an age old calendar on the back of the kitchen door which if given to a ghost writer would be the substantiative content for a “when to do what in your garden” handbook – a Gardening for Dummies if you will. It is a mega, seasonal, prepare/plant/pick/prune checklist for everything you can imagine in a garden.
I recently read about the Qantas QF32 emergency back in November 2010. Just 4 minutes out of Singapore with a full load of passengers and fuel, one of the engines on an Airbus A380 blew itself through the wing and damaged or disabled an array of the planes fuel and control systems including the other engines. There is a book by the captain, Richard de Crespigny, (and now a tele-movie) if you want the full story. The great thing was the safe arrival and touchdown back in Singapore 2 hours later with absolutely no loss of life or limb. At one stage there were 57 alarms active in the cockpit. How do you handle and respond to that?
The answer, according to the flight crew, was checklists and of course the airline industry is famous for their checklists or standard operating procedures (SOPs). You see those clip boards in every movie and every time you get on a plane. The reality is that in times of crisis and pressure, people are not able to adequately perform and respond to the situation around them. Even without unnatural stresses and pressure, better performance comes from predictable, consistent and timely outcomes for both regular and irregular tasks. So checklists are developed and honed and practised to the nth degree. The QF32 flight crew went through 125 of them in 50 minutes – way more than ever covered in their flight simulator training. But no time to worry about that, just press on while the thing is still in the air!
Another critical industry fond of its checklists is health. Hospitals and healthcare institutions have long proven that checklists in the surgical operating theatre reduce risks of errors and infections, provide a radically better outcome for the patient and reduce the long-term cost of delivering the service. A surgical nurse friend of mine talks about counting every instrument and swab in and every instrument and swap out.
Checklists are all about compliance. “In this situation all these steps must be completed by this role/skill/level and in this order.” Simple really. In our business we have plenty of them.
Opening a new debtor record in the finance system for a new client … Have we got all the necessary contact details? Have we checked the validity of the ABN? Have we already got a debtor using this ABN? Have we got three credit references? Have we got a credit rating report? And so on.
Releasing a new version of software … Have we fully tested the release package? Have we updated the help file? Have we updated the reference and installation manuals? Have we produced release notes? Has it all been lodged in the download area of the service portal? Have we communicated the release to affected parties? Have we retired the previous download package? And so on.
For many end-to-end knowledge-based processes, current practice relies on checklists to make sure we do the right things because the nature of the tasks are so disconnected from, or intertwined with, specialist systems that they cannot be worked into a BPMS or workflow automation tool. But managing those compliance checklists is important and making sure they are applied properly and consistently is critical. It is process failure through variation and omission that causes rework and revenue slippage in the knowledge economy. Turning checklist data into operational analysis and identifying emerging better practices for revised checklists brings continuous improvement.
What are the checklists of compliance in your business? Talk to us about making automation and workflow a core competency for your compliance requirements.
You can read other business process management blog posts here.
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