Checklists – Simple but Effective

ERP systems such as Microsoft Dynamics NAV have evolved into highly complex systems. Understanding how all the various parts of the system, such as Financials, Payroll, Warehouse Management, Manufacturing, Service Management and Fixed Assets work together can stretch the ability of even the best and most dedicated consultants;and relatively simple things can sometimes get overlooked, leading to delays and issues.

One of the ways we deal with this complexity at Fenwick is by using a proven, but little appreciated technique—the simple checklist.

In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, one of my favourite writers, surgeon and best selling author Dr Atul Gawande, vividly describes how the humble checklist has become the solution to the complexity problem in high tech fields ranging from construction, finance/investing, surgery, flying and even developing IT systems. In fact, in any profession where the level of detail and technical specialization to be done is too great for a single individual to master, checklists—a simple list of tasks to be done/checked—allow us to improve team communication and conquer the complexity.

Although it might seem as if checklists have been around forever, they were first formalized by Boeing in 1935 to help pilots fly the (then) most complex plane in the world, the B17 bomber. Thought to be too complex for pilots to fly following a disastrous test flight crash, the checklist helped pilots conquer the complexity and safely fly the aircraft in thousands of missions.

In hospitals worldwide, the gradual introduction of standard checklists into surgical procedures has dramatically reduced the incidence of errors, omissions and subsequent complications (sometimes fatal) for patients. In fact the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that the introduction in 2008 of a basic ‘safe surgery’ checklist program has saved thousands of lives annually.

Of course, checklists have come a long way from the early versions, with formal theories underpinning the various types of checklists—the ‘Do-Confirm’ list and the ‘Read-Do’ lists, the level of detail to be included (not too much, not too little) and the on-going testing and refinement of the checklists.

At Fenwick, we use a range of checklists when implementing and enhancing NAV to help ensure that our best practices are consistently followed, and to reduce the avoidable errors that even the most experienced staff can make during times of stress.

So the next time you’re faced with a complex situation, ask the consultants advising you if they use a checklist…