ARE checklists Really USEFUL?
Good question. Let's do some investigation
Here are two areas where checklists have been immensely helpful:
Aviation: Pilots get you safely to any place on the world
On a normal day, 100’000 planes take off into the sky.
Have you ever wondered why there are so few accidents?
Yes, aircraft have become more reliable.
But humans didn’t change.
The errors caused by humans have always been a big issue.
That’s why in the 1980s, checklists were introduced for flight crews.
How did checklists improve flight safety?
Look at this chart:
Flying has become safer every year.
Today, it is estimated that the chance of dying in a plane crash today is 1:11’000’000.
That is one in eleven million or 0.000009090909090909091%
Healthcare: This simple checklist saves millions of lives every year
200 million operations are performed every year.
Most of them are without surprises.
But few years back, OR teams struggled with frequent mistakes. Self-inflicted errors that led to complications or even to the patient’s death.
Many of those errors were caused by communication lapses.
In 2008, a group of medical experts developed a checklist for surgeons.
The checklist helped operating room teams remember the critical steps that were easily missed during an operation.
The checklist contained only 19 items. You can see it here:
The results were dramatic:
Patient deaths decreased by 47 percent and complications by 36 percent.
So, now you may ask:
What about checklists in project management?
Checklists are a rare thing!
The best companies use them, but most don’t.
That’s why the project statistics are so appallingly bad.
The thing is: checklists can massively raise the success rate of projects.
Because when you think about it: every project is more or less performed in the same way:
– You create a schedule
– You set up a budget
– You show the plan to your client
– You get the project approved (in writing).
And so on.
Projects follow a step-by-step process.
Next, let me share a few ideas to make the case for checklists in project management.
Insight #1: In projects, missing a step can cost you dearly
A lock that wasn’t closed, a value that wasn’t checked, a question that wasn’t asked — you and I know what such omissions can lead to in fields like aviation or healthcare.
Fortunately, your projects are not a matter of life and death.
But still, skipping a step can have repercussions that you’re going to feel for some time.
– Keeping the customer in the dark about what happens when he requests a change
– Failing to identify the people approving your work
– Not analyzing the impact of your project on legal, HR or other areas
If you don’t do this basic homework (which we cover in our kickoff checklist), you’ll find yourself in endless discussions with your client. And you’ll be surprised how quickly a project can get out of control.
In the end the project will be managing you.
Don’t let that happen to you.
Insight #2: When you’re in a hurry and too rushed to use a checklist — that’s when you should use a checklist
When was the last time you rushed to the grocery store and forgot one important item, just because you didn’t note down the things you needed?
It’s annoying, but no big deal.
You can live without your favorite cheese for a day.
But for more complex undertakings like projects, it’s a different story.
Rushing through the process can cost you dearly, as we have said before.
Now, the crazy thing is that in projects we are always in a hectic, time-pressured environment.
– Projects usually get approved in the last minute
– Management puts a lot of pressure on the project team
– We are made to believe that we can skip steps. For example, they say you don’t need steering committee! Nice, but your management doesn’t have to bear the consequences. You’ll have to, and it’s your reputation.
Often, we later realize that we should have done things properly, not skipping a step.
That’s exactly why project checklists are so useful:
– Checklists help you remember the steps you should take to have a successful project
– Checklists help you stay focused on the critical tasks
– Checklists allow you to move fast without compromising quality
Insight #3: The groundwork of a successful project is laid in first weeks
If you set up your project properly, 80% of the work is done. And you have no reason to worry because you’ve taken care of the things that really matter.
That’s why I always put in a ton of effort at the start of my projects.
Later on, the project almost runs itself and I can focus on the actual management.
Or I can take a one-week vacation:
Some of the things I do:
– Spend 1 hour with each team member to discuss their responsibilities and my expectations
– Define an escalation process: Knowing what manager to call in case of grave issues or obstacles saves me a lot of time
– Check if my team members have got the tools they need to do their work (tools, access, approvals etc.)
These are the kinds of steps you’ll find on the project kickoff checklist.
The Tactical Project Manager Project Kickoff Checklist
What does the checklist include?
The checklist contains 43 questions that address specific steps you should take for setting up your project.
The questions draw from all areas, including planning, scope, resources, risks and communication.
Questions are arranged in the typical order of a project.
Here’s an example:
Another example. Note that we are emphasizing the client should be interviewed personally.
And for every checklist item you’ll find a brief explanation:
"Is the checklist right for me?"
The checklist has been designed in a way that it’ll work for any project. It covers the general steps that should always be taken for new projects, no matter what industry you’re in. We recommend that you add questions relevant to your field of work.
The checklist is suitable for these groups:
- businesses of any size (small to large)
- independent contractors
- consulting firms
- university staff
- you don’t want to follow a structured approach
- you already have formal project management procedures in place
- you usually take the path of least resistance
No risk for you: Our 30-day money-back guarantee
If you don’t find the checklist helpful we’ll refund you the money within 30 days after your purchase.
Use a checklist or don't — it's your choice!
The project kickoff checklist is a tool to make your work easier and to help you deliver a successful project. You can buy the Excel-based checklist here. After your purchase you will receive an email with a download link.