Using Checklists for Efficiency and Accuracy

Checklists are a powerful tool for ensuring reliable process and consistent outcomes. At Trillium, we use checklists to evaluate our GTFS datasets and before we push new code to our GTFS manager. This step makes sure everything is complete, accurate, and standardized.

While it might sound excessive to suggest employing checklists for all projects and processes, research supports doing just that. In his book The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande writes about how even highly-trained professionals regularly make avoidable mistakes in their work. By composing and implementing a checklist system, rates of error can be dramatically reduced. For example, Johns Hopkins Hospital was able to decrease the rate of central line infections in patients from 11 percent to zero by using a checklist system. Just this small change saved the hospital $2 million.

Any system with such proven success is at least worth checking into. Here are three ways checklists can improve efficiency and accuracy within any business.

Checklists Increase Accuracy and Help Avoid Mistakes

Even smart and highly-trained professionals can make mistakes. Especially when your job is complex, multifaceted and fast-paced, there are always distractions pulling at your attention. While we can’t avoid this interference entirely, we can avoid mistakes by using well-written checklists.

Writing out every step to a task or project ahead of time means that as long as the list is being followed, steps will never been left out. Checklists also make it easier to leave a task and coming back to it without missing anything. When inputting GTFS transit data and designing websites, one missed step can have frustrating results and take time to identify and fix. If I need to make a phone call or jump into a meeting mid-process, coming back to a clear checklist means I see a list of exactly what I’ve already done and what I have left to do. This puts me back in the right headspace immediately and ensures I won’t leave anything out.

Checklists Ensure Consistency

Using a checklist ensures that tasks are done the same way each time. Each person who uses the checklist will take the same steps in the same order, ensuring completeness and consistency. For example, without a checklist, one employee might schedule a meeting by sending an email while another might send a calendar invite. This may seem like a minimal example, but imagine all the more complex tasks employees take on every day and how many different ways they could each approach these tasks. A checklist gives a clear and easy way to standardize good practices and company policies. It streamlines processes to make them uniform, reliable, and efficient.

Checklists Allow Increased Employee-Flexibility and Streamline New-Hire Training

Having a checklist for each task means that any employee can step in and cover for another employee with minimal disruption. New employees will have clear guidelines and expectations for their new role. Organizing jobs into coherent, simple steps with instructions cuts down on questions from new hires and gives older employees a reference to check their own work. Especially at a growing company, checklists make it easier to understand each person’s changing roles and responsibilities, identify gaps, and facilitate others jumping in when needed.

Additionally, having a checklist system makes it easier to implement process changes throughout your agency. If one step gets added, removed, or changed, you can just edit your checklist and everyone impacted by the change is immediately notified.

Our work at Trillium requires many small but important steps. Using checklists ensures that our data is accurate and that it adheres to best practice every single time. If you’re interested in using checklists in your work, check out this Checklist for Making Checklists for more tips.

Aaron is the founding principal of Trillium Solutions, Inc. He brings experience that includes 12 years of web-development with 8 years in public transportation, with knowledge of fixed-route transportation, paratransit, rural transportation, and active transportation modes. Aaron is a recognized expert in developing data standards, web-application design, digital communications, and online marketing strategy. He originally developed Trillium’s GTFS Manager, and has played a key role in the development of the GTFS data specification since 2007.