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Do Checklists Make Architecture and Design Projects Better?

by Hal on April 9, 2009

in design, lean, tools

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Q400 ChecklistImage by Dan O'Leary via Flickr

Web 2.0 is synonymous with the software solutions 37signals creates. You know the names, Backpack, Basecamp, Highrise, Campfire, Ta-da List and Whiteboard. These are the same people behind Ruby on Rails. How do they do such great work?

They call it Getting Real. It's an approach — a philosophy really — that guides how they do what they do to build software solutions. Oh, you don't do that! There's a lot to learn for everyone who does design and development projects.

"Avoid (Getting Real) at your peril."

That includes building architects, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, new product development team, etc. Seth Godin had this to say about the book, "Avoid it at your peril."

So what got into me today? I was catching up on a blog post, Verify Your Work with Checklists. They write about the significant advances in patient safety that has occurred as the result of using checklists in hospitals. I imagine going for surgery on one knee and the doctor performs surgery on the other. That was happening way too often. The use of checklists and multiple screening has significantly reduced those errors. 37signals developed standard work in the form of a checklist that everyone on their team can follow. Standard work is not the whole job, just the portion that people have decided is the currently understood best practice.

Checklists free up thinking for more important tasks.

Some people have a problem using checklists. They say that a checklist shuts down thinking. I, for one, am glad to know pilots use checklists…and now surgeons…and people in nuclear power stations. Rather than shut down thinking, checklists serve as a medium for sharing institutional knowledge. In doing so, they free up thinking. Sounds like a good combination.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John Crossan April 17, 2009 at 8:38 am

Checklists absolutely reduce errors dramatically. It’s just such a struggle to get folks to use them. I wrote about the issue in my blog

2 Mike Sporer September 15, 2009 at 7:14 pm

After a preventable mistake being made by my payroll person, I suggested the use of a checklist. She took that suggestion as insulting. But the use of a checklist for recurring processes can make a gigantic difference. One interruption is all it takes to de-rail a process, and a checklist becomes preventative.

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