The Benefits of a Checklist

Do you use checklists?

I must admit that I don’t. I have written to you about the power of the checklist. But, I don’t have them incorporated in my life. I read a book that reminded me of their power and it has me reconsidering how I approach it.

The book is called Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia.

Sounds sort of exotic but it isn’t really. A friend gave me the book and it had been sitting on my desk for months. I finally stuffed it in my briefcase to read and was struck by its wisdom.

Utopia is actually a real place in the Hill Country of Texas. The story is about a professional golfer who has had a disaster in a tournament and finds himself on a country golf course in a small community. He finds himself in the hands of a savvy cowboy who teaches him to think differently about the game and the way he teaches causes the pro to think differently about life as well.

I recommend the book. It has a good story and ends with some strong encouragement to consider your religious faith. But, its life lessons are good. There’s also a movie out by the same name. Movie is good. Book is better, in my judgment.

Anyway: back to the checklist.

In the book, the cowboy teaches the pro something about golf by taking him flying. Turns out the cowboy is a pilot. The pilot takes the pro out to a small hanger in the middle of a field. They push out the plane.

The pilot walks around the plane doing a pre-flight check. He checks the tires, he checks the oil. He inspects the physical structure for imperfections.

When they get in the plane, the pilot opens a log book and hands a checklist to the pro. He has the pro read off all the details of the checklist. As each one is read, the pilot performs the act and responds “Check.” The acts of takeoff and flight won’t occur until the list is done.

As I was reading this, there was a bit of “déjà vu” occurring for me. Earlier in my career I was a frequent passenger on a small plane. The pilot was our PalletOne board member Al Holland. We always did the preflight check. No matter what time of day. No matter whether we had a schedule to meet. We always did the pre-flight ritual.

And, I can attest we always had a successful flight.

The author David Cook describes it this way through Johnny the pilot: “To fly is to focus. You start with the external walk-around checklist, ending with a look at the engine. Second, you enter the cockpit and go through the internal pre-flight checklist. These two checklists guarantee that the plane is airworthy. Confidence builds for the flight as you eliminate possible problems before you get airborne. Finally, you check the wind, plan a strategy, and focus. After all of that preparation, it is time to perform. With an assertive mindset and a calm heart and steady hand, you initiate the plan.”

It made me consider how we start our day and do our work. Our errors most commonly come when we fail to do what we know to do.

Think about it: Downtime because we didn’t complete preventive maintenance. Miscut lumber because we failed to check our measurements. Misbuilt pallets because we failed to check the specification. Injuries because we failed to follow a lockout-tagout procedure.

What if we took care to write down the right way to do things at our work stations and consulted them every time we changed over a piece of equipment or began our work day?

One of the tenets of lean manufacturing is to determine the best way to do things. Write it down. Edit and adjust as improvements are done. Put in procedures to make sure they occur.

That’s a checklist. According to the expert, a checklist builds confidence. They help us to achieve our goals.

Looking for a lean project? Consider your ideal work process, write it down and keep it handy as you go through your day.



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Posted in: Improvement, Lean

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