As an IT service provider, you know that systems and processes can get complex. Whether it’s hiring a new tech and getting them up to speed, setting up a new service for a client, or even making sure you are up to date on all the new compliance regulations; there is a system for everything. But how can you make sure those processes are standardized? The answer is simple — checklists.
Recently we read The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande and discovered why checklists are essential to running a profitable business. Although many business professionals are hesitant to use them at first, “Checklists seem able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realized,” says Gawande. “They provide a cognitive net. They catch mental flaws inherent in all of us — flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness. And because they do, they raise wide, unexpected possibilities.”
Creating an effective checklist
From surgical doctors to pilots, professionals use checklists on a daily basis. While they may be simple reminders, they have been proven to reduce errors and save lives. Routines may be helpful, but sometimes our brains can skip important steps.
This is where checklists can come into play by helping us follow steps in order. Simple checks in the operating room, like which side they are operating on, can help eliminate errors. Although IT services may not save someone’s life per-se, you might be able to save their data or even their business reputation.
While it may seem like a simple process, there are a lot of factors that go into creating an effective checklist:
- “There are good checklists, and there are bad checklists.” Good checklists provide reminders to prompt important tasks. Bad checklists are vague and imprecise. Finding the right balance is critical. While checklists can help trigger important steps, the book also reminds us that to have an effective checklist it must be routinely followed. Without creating a routine, steps can be forgotten, and you have lost your safety net to fall back on.
- Creating the right type of checklist for the right job. In the book, Gawande explains that there are two different types of checklists: Do-Confirm and Read-Do. With a Do-Confirm checklist, you carry out routine tasks, and once you’re done, you confirm that all the steps were completed. An example of a Do-Confirm list would be making sure HIPAA standards are met. Although you don’t need all these steps to be done in precisely the same order, making sure all the requirements are met is certainly a necessity.
The other type of checklist is a Read-Do list. This is done step by step, and you only move on to the next step after the current step is fully completed. An example would be testing a customer’s disaster recovery plan to make sure it works properly. This is a step-by-step process to ensure that all best practices are conducted in the right order.
- Limit your checklist items. While a checklist has the potential to be lengthy, Gawande recommends that if you want to really trigger memory the best checklists are between five and nine items and take from 30 to 90 seconds to go through. For ease and functionality, keep checklists to a one-page maximum, and break up tasks if need be. A pilot goes through an average of five checklists before flight, and it takes less than a few minutes to accomplish. Without taking the extra minute or so, complications that may easily have been prevented could arise.
- Keep wording short but exact. Checklists aren’t meant to be a how-to guide. Instead, view them as a quick, simple tool to help you stay on track with important tasks. According to the book, a good checklist maintains flexibility, and it is simple and easy to understand without being either too vague or too complex.
- Keep testing. To create a successful checklist, you need to keep testing it. Are you including the most important aspects and steps? Is there anything you can do to make your list more concise? Don’t be afraid to go through a few drafts before finding one that fits the needs of your business.
Implementing these five tips into a checklist will not only help your MSP be more effective, but more consistent across the board. You could create checklists for setting up and deploying new services, on-boarding new customers, making sure you meet industry regulations, and much more. Developing checklists may be time-consuming, but it can save you time in the end and help eliminate costly mistakes down the road.
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
By Atul Gawande
240 pages. Picador. $10.00
Have suggestions about what we should read next? Leave a comment and let us know what we should add to our MSP's bookshelf.