The Value of a Good Checklist

I like to think that our global screening program is top notch. We spend a great deal of time gathering ordering requirements, writing client and candidate instructions, proofing supplemental forms, and loading all of this into our portals and knowledgebases. I’m fairly well organized and keep good notes. Keeping up with all of these steps when updating a form or instruction is no big deal for me. Or so I thought.

I recently updated forms for that complicated search we all love, the United Kingdom Criminal Record Search. The form we use to confirm the ID checking process and the client and candidate instructions were revised. I spent considerable time writing the updates and had one of our operations processors review them for clarity. All was good. The documents were saved to PDF and loaded into our portal and knowledgebase, and key clients were notified before I dashed home for the evening. Job well done!

I try not to revise forms more often than needed. It causes issues for our clients keeping up with multiple versions and getting them all into production. You can imagine my dismay when in the wee hours of a sleepless night it suddenly dawned on me I had failed to do several things when I rolled out my new UK documents. Rats. (Well, I said more than that.)

First thing the next day, I had to redo some of my work, upload the documents to the previously completed locations, and add the documents to the locations I missed. Then I had to do the dreaded email to key clients, apologizing for the error in providing a document that was not fully complete. (I had failed to create a form fillable version.)

Months ago, I had started to write down all of the steps involved in managing searches, including supplemental document creation. I dusted that darned manual off and found a partially complete checklist for the very tasks I was working on the day before. It apparently wasn’t important enough for me to complete at the time. (Had I taken the time to complete it, would I have ultimately saved time this week and reduced client irritation? I’ll let you decide.)

This got me thinking—flying is complicated. So is surgery. There’s a reason why pilots and surgeons use checklists, even for routine procedures. The use of checklists dramatically reduces errors and omissions and improves safety. Even basic tasks can benefit from the use of a checklist. Checklists are recommended tools for process improvement. Creating a checklist is a good way to think through all of the steps in a given task. It can help identify new steps to take and steps that are candidates for removal.

While missing something in the global screening process may not have the same gravity of a plane crash, an error on the part of a screener can cause a candidate or employer hardship and can impact those who interact with the employer. Missing something in our industry can have serious downstream effects. We have a high duty of care, and I take this very seriously.

Just after I revised my documents, I revisited my earlier checklist draft. Some of the things I had failed to do were already listed in the draft. And some items had not been thought of. I added items and closed the document. Over the course of the morning, I went back and pondered, opened the document, added items, and closed it again. It will probably take me a few more revisions, and some continuous upkeep, to make it a thorough checklist of the items I need to do with search revisions, but I think it will prevent me from missing key items in the future. I have a large number of ordering changes to implement today, and you can be sure that the checklist has been printed out and sits in front of me.

This checklist, and the manual when fully complete, will also help create a training tool for other staff. Eventually others need to know how to manage the search criteria process so that I can have my day in the sun.

For more information about using checklists, an internet search will provide a wealth of information. Here are a couple of documents I’ve recently reviewed.

Back to Basics: Checklists in Aviation and Healthcare

The Hospital Checklist: How Social Science Insights Improve Health Care Outcomes

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