Wouldn’t it be nice if your staff worked with the precision of a fighter pilot and the efficiency of an operating room?  If there was a method for reducing errors while increasing profitability? There is and that method is called “checklists”.

Are Checklists worth the effort?

When I suggest owners develop checklists the response is usually along the lines of: “My people already know how to do their job and, besides, we don’t have the time for that right now.”  Now imagine the reaction when the same suggestion was made to fighter pilots and surgeons.

But even these ultra-confident professionals are persuaded when they see the documented results.  Checklists in the operating room have cut mortality by a third and decreased rates of infections by as much as 88%.  And after the introduction of checklists in aviation, pilots logged 2 million miles with no critical incidents.  In fact, the use of checklists helped put the first men on the moon and are the reason behind aircrafts’ technological advancements since 1935.

SOPs versus Checklists

By now you are likely asking: “Isn’t he talking about Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)? “ The answer is “yes” and “no”.  While including checklists, a formal SOP also includes the SOP’s purpose; equipment needed; quality control procedures and more.

That said, developing checklists are an ideal starting point for companies with no previous experience developing or using SOPs.  In my experience, just the process of putting together a checklist results in the inclusion of much of what is called for in the standard SOP.

Developing Checklists

Based on the experiences of pilots and hospitals, following these few principals will maximize the effectiveness of your checklists.

Bottom-up process.  Most owners will be tempted to develop the checklist on their own.  That certainly would be the simplest, quickest way to get it done. Besides, who else knows more about the operations of your company than you?  However, the most effective checklists are put together by including all those directly involved in the process.  Inclusion in the process has a number of benefits including a shared understanding of the need for the checklist, immediate buy-in, avoiding missing steps as well as a review of best practices.

Prioritization. If you are just starting out, it can be difficult to decide which task or process to document first.  Here are some criteria to consider.    Frequency: How often is the process used?  Operational importance: How critical is the process to organizational success?   Error rate: How often does the process result in errors and what is the resultant drain on your operations and your time.

Training. It is essential everyone involved in the process be trained on how to use the checklist.  New hires require training on how to use the checklist as well as its benefit to the organization and that individual.  Occasional full-staff reviews of the checklist should also be scheduled.  These reviews can include reminders of the benefits of the checklist; responsibility by position for the list’s steps; ensure it is being followed and updating when necessary such as with the addition of new equipment or changes in product design.


I guarantee your pilot or surgeon will follow a checklist next time you fly or have an operation.  So why not give your business the same advantage?  The result will be increased efficiency, higher profits and reduced stress.  And, if nothing else, you’ll thank me the next time a key employee leaves without notice!