What am I? Check!

This post has the answer to a riddle I posted earlier – if you did not see it then check it out before continuing to read: Riddle me this: What am I?

The short answer to the riddle is The Checklist. And if you catch yourself saying, “Ah, I thought it was something more interesting …” then you are about to confirm point 4 in dismissing it.

In 1935, Boeing almost went bankrupt if not for the checklist. As Atul Gawande tells the story in his Checklist Manifesto, their new bomber B-17, dubbed “flying fortress”, crashed at the first test flight. Being the largest most powerful bomber ever built, the B-17 was, as one journalist put it, “too much airplane for one man to fly”. 

After the shocking crash, the U.S. ordered planes from Boeing’s competitors. Later, still believing in the Flying Fortress, U.S. pilots came back with a take-off checklist to help pilots go through all the crucial steps of a safe take off.  The U.S. then ordered 13,000 B-17, which gave the U.S. a decisive air advantage against the (then most powerful) Nazi Luftwaffe.

In health, if you are under 70, there is a good chance that you were assessed quickly and accurately, in the first few minutes of life, by the Apgar checklist (score). The score is a very efficient and quick way to assess the health of a newborn in the first few minutes by looking at the 5 categories: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity and Respiration. Each category is ranked between 0 and 2, resulting in an Apgar score between 0 and 10.

Dr Apgar “invented” this checklist in 1952. Before then each physician followed their own hit and miss approach, and the Apgar scoring is credited for major reduction in infant mortality. A similar claim goes to the 19-point pre-surgery checklist, introduced by the World Health Organisation in 2008. The checklist resulted in major complications dropping by a third and death rates cut in half (including hospitals in developed countries). 

The business world is not short of examples of checklists holding it all together and creating seamless workflows. But for this post, here is our 3-point Flexem Engagement Checklist (as outlined by M. Gladwell in his Outliers). It tells us, so far without fail, whether each of us has a fulfilling role.

Our Flexem Engagement Checklist

  1. Complexity: Are you challenged in your role? (Or Are you bored?)
  2. Autonomy: Do you feel accountable for the results of your work without feeling watched and micromanaged? (Or Do you have to be seen at your desk at 9:00 am regardless of your workload?)
  3. Direct connection between Effort and Reward:  Is your work immediately acknowledged and/or rewarded? (Or you hear yourself often say ‘who cares anyway’).

Voila! One ‘NO’ answer tells us where to look. Ironically millions of dollars are still being spent on ‘consultants’ to come out with exactly the same diagnosis as in this checklist.

And what about the resistance against using checklists? I cannot put it better than this excerpt from the Checklist Manifesto.

On designing a checklist

In my current thinking, I put most checklists into two groups of whether they are time-critical or not.

A well-designed checklist is like a good GPS that shows you the shortest route to the results you want. For instance, did you know that the Boeing checklist for engine failure during flight is only seven (7) practical, clearly stated and actionable points? 

Not all checklists need to be short, especially if time is on your side. But all checklists must be watertight and with as little redundancies as possible. 

Many good checklists seem deceptively simple also. Because of their simplicity, every point counts a huge deal. Every point usually covers a complex array of interconnected and critical issues.

Take our 3-point engagement checklist for instance. No one point can be dismissed or ignored, and no one point can cover for the others.  

To borrow the analogy of the Flying Fortress “too much airplane”,  do you have ‘too much business’ to operate? If you do, then Check!