What You Need to Craft an Effective Checklist


She’s the first to admit this, but my 60-something year old mother is demonstrably not tech savvy. You can imagine how difficult the world is becoming for her. TVs used to have a simple on/off button and maybe a clicker to change the channels, but now we have DVRs, blu ray players, streaming devices like Roku and ChromeCast, and televisions that will practically have dinner ready when you get home. 

Mom relies on her children to help whenever a new piece of technology enters the house, and the first thing she does is grab a pen and notepad. “I have to make my cheat sheet,” she says. We then start at the beginning, from what remote to use through everything she needs to do to accomplish her desired outcome.

She writes slowly and deliberately, making sure her cheat sheet is legible for the next time she needs to use it. Her little Post-Its are stashed throughout the house so she can find them whenever she needs one.

You may be chuckling at one woman’s struggle to watch her Gilmore Girls DVDs, but for her, household technology is a challenge. In our jobs, we all have that equivalent. There are things we need to know how to do that, for whatever reason, our memories need some help.

Many of us are also responsible for projects that are complicated or highly technical. The most in-depth training usually doesn’t stick when it’s done in a one-off fashion as part of a two-day conference. Despite our best intentions, we walk out of there and promptly forget the finer details we really need to know.

Performance support checklists, like my mom’s cable box cheat sheet, are the best solution. They produce markedly improved results with a comparatively minimal investment in time and resources to create. The beauty is in its simplicity but, like anything else, it has to be done well to get the best results.

What Makes a Good Checklist?

It has a clear objective. Before you even assemble your checklist, you should know what employees have completed at the end of it. Does the checklist support a process for a mechanical inspection? Perhaps a part installation? Maybe it’s less technical and is meant to help a salesperson update a prospect record in the CRM. Regardless, know what your audience should have successfully done by the end of the checklist.

It’s not too long. Avoid overwhelming employees by breaking a process into multiple checklists, rather than one that has too many steps.

It doesn’t skip steps or combine several steps into one item. Keep each item on the checklist separate from others and avoid temptation to combine them. Doing so will avoid misunderstandings. While some employees may only need to reference the checklist a handful of times, others might rely heavily on it, so it’s best to avoid assumptions.

It links to knowledge for additional support. A checklist is designed to help an employee remember what steps need to be completed and in what order. Sometimes, though, it’s helpful to also have a refresher on how to complete a step. Here, you can provide a link to additional training materials, like charts, diagrams, photos, infographics and videos that help jog an employee’s memory or confirm they are performing the step correctly.

It’s completed electronically on a computer or mobile device. Not only does this save paper and printing costs, electronic checklists are easier to update with new processes, and easier to complete and submit.

It sends data to an internal system to collect and summarize for management. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, electronic checklists make data collection and reporting a breeze. Supervisors can view at-a-glance reports reflecting the aggregate performance of their team in near-real time.

Come to think of it, I may need to look into electronic checklists for my mom. But, I’d probably have to help her make a cheat sheet of how to find them on her iPad.

Will Holland