When it comes to documenting work processes, checklists are everywhere. It makes intuitive sense to use checklists so no important check is forgotten. But in a world of digital work instructions, checklists are more than just reminders. They are a powerful reporting mechanism.
Let’s dive into all you need to know about writing and leveraging the best checklists.
What makes up a checklist?
Checklists are an integral part of SOPs (standard operating procedures) of companies to help keep control over quality and safety. They are also used to keep track of the current state of machines, tasks, etc.
A good checklist describes:
- What needs to be checked.
- How to perform each check.
- The correct state that they should encounter.
- In what order the checks should be done.
Next to always containing these elements, a good checklist must also have the following qualities:
- Be intuitive and quick to use.
- Leave no room for misinterpretation.
Key principles for effective checklists.
Let’s go over five key concepts that will help you master the skill of creating good checklists.
Keep it simple.
Every check should be a simple true-or-false statement. Describe the correct state the user should encounter and leave it at that. Make sure the check instructions only refer to doing the checks themselves. Any possible problem-solving steps should be documented separately.
Best practices for writing work instructions also apply to checklists. Check out these tips on writing simple and explicit work instructions.
Divide into the smallest component.
Divide the checklist into as many items as there are things to be checked.
That sounds so obvious, right? But take for instance the following check:
What if just one of these is not true? The check is negative. But which of the three things do we need to investigate and correct? Now imagine a much more complex check for a machine causing downtime.
Any unnecessary troubleshooting time can quickly add up and in the best case, the reporting gets muddled. Therefore, always separate the lists into the smallest element possible.
Leverage the power of visual aids.
If at all possible, the text should be supported by visuals. That a picture is worth a thousand words definitely applies here. The power of visuals can hardly be overstated, whether it is a photo, GIF or video.
Be careful though. An incomplete look at the situation might confuse the user or draw attention to the wrong place. Spend time on the execution of the pictures and test if they are open to misinterpretation. For more tips, see our article on creating the best visuals for work instructions.
Adapt the checklist to the user.
A checklist is a conversation with the user. To make a checklist work it must match the user’s needs in their specific situation. What jargon do they know and use? What exactly do they experience on the work floor? What tools are available?
The best approach is to have users involved in creating and testing the checklists. On top of that, make sure there is a feedback option available to keep improving the checklists.
Available when needed, where needed.
Make sure people can access a checklist where they will need it, as soon as they need it. For instance, have the list right next to or on the machine they are operating.
Digital instructions on a handheld device are the perfect solution. Using a QR code attached to a machine will lead someone to the right page in no time - with the added advantage that updating a checklist is easier than ever.
It’s hard to be both concise and thorough, but practice makes perfect. Keep in mind, even the best checklists need to be checked themselves and updated when relevant.
Don’t stop improving.