The Checklist Manifesto

This is part of a series of blogs on checklists and how they have aided my approach to leadership. Click here for a blog about school displays.

What do you believe?

  • Do you believe in setting high standards for your typical performance baseline?
  • Do you believe that everyone would benefit from setting out transparent expectations for key aspects of Teaching & Learning so that everyone is aware of what is expected?
  • Do you believe that staff should be supported to reflect on their typical practice everyday so that standards are sustained and improved over time?
  • Do you recognise that some tasks and professions are now so complex, that it is too much to expect someone to remember everything they need to consider?

How could you achieve it?

As a school or business leader you may well have a clear vision for what you want to achieve. It can be incredibly frustrating when staff fall short of your expectations.

BUT, have you ever explicitly told them what you need to see?

Is there somewhere I could go in your organisation to see the magical ingredients you need, or do I have to guess what is in your head?

Could you work with staff to tease out the key steps they need to take for something to be achieved… a recipe so to speak?

What might it look like?

Atul Gawande suggests that simple checklists can have a huge impact! In hospitals they save lives. In planes they prevent crashes. In schools they can aid learning.

So what simple steps do you need to take to create one of these checklists?

Phase Objectives Tick List Comment
Keep it simple, to the point, practical
Wording should be simple, exact
1 page – free from clutter
5-9 items max
Large font size
TEST in real life and then improve!
Not a comprehensive guide, if something is never omitted then it doesn’t need to be on the list
Look at the World Health Organisation and Boeing checklists for inspiration
A checklist is only an AID, but if it doesn’t aid it isn’t right
What type of checklist is it?

1.   Do – confirm

Do from memory and then confirm afterwards

2.   Read – do

To be read and performed simultaneously

Risks to mitigate

  • Clarity of vision about what you want to achieve. If the vision is clear, checklists can help keep you on the path to achieving it. But if the vision isn’t there, where is the checklist supposed to take you? Vision first, checklist second.
  • Having the recipe, and even following the recipe, doesn’t mean you will get perfect results. I know, I’ve burnt a lot of cakes. The checklist is not the answer, it isn’t a substitute for passion… it is just a reminder of some key considerations. Using it can help make success more likely, but it won’t guarantee it.
  • Practice – you need to keep referring back to the list. Professionals have a tendency to think they know it all, but you get incremental drift over time. As a staff, you need to practice the lists together, check that you are doing the steps, ask others to challenge or observe you. If there is an established culture of working together to improve performance then the checklist will help. If it is a list of things to ‘catch people out with’ the list will hinder, not enhance.
  • Revise the list. Just because it was the right list last week, last year, last month, doesn’t mean it is the right list for NOW. There has to be a culture of reviewing and testing.

Good luck.. and get checking!

Additional Reading

Checklist Manifesto Summary

Categories Checklists, Leadership, School ImprovementTags
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