Checklist best practices

A simple list with a lot of power

 A cake wouldn't be as delicious if you missed a few ingredients, would it? Checklists are the same way. Think of the tasks in your checklist as ingredients in a recipe for success. Each has its place, and each is important for a great result.

Ingredients for an effective checklist

Before you create checklists, it helps to know what makes a good checklist. After all, you want it to be useful and save you time in the long run. Just ticking off boxes is not the ultimate goal of your checklist. 

The suggested best practices below can help you create the best checklist for your procedure and gives you ownership over the process.

Step 1: Look at the mistakes made in the past  

Take a good, hard look at what hasn't worked in the past. Were there steps missed? Were the steps completed out of order? Find out where the process has fallen down and identify failure points in a task you do frequently. Identifying these roadblocks will serve as your building blocks for a successful checklist. 

Step 2: Seek additional input from others

With most types of work, there are other people in your organization who either do similar work or who use the results of your work. Ask these people for their ideas on the common causes of failure or what they would suggest checking. Many people are willing to offer some thoughts and observations, especially if they are impacted by your work.

Step 3:  Keep your focus on the small but key tasks that are often overlooked

Describing every single step to complete a task essentially renders a checklist useless. Just list the key steps identified in Step 1 that you frequently miss.  Think of a checklist step as a headline ‘Complete installation', you could then link to an SOP that has more detail that is required for completing that task. Your checklist should have no more than 9 items on it. The shorter the better.

Step 4: Create simple “Do” steps

Do steps are exactly what they sound like – reminders to do a specific action. In the case of onboarding a new employee, you could check what software and licenses they may need to  complete their daily responsibilities, using previous onboarding experiences as a baseline. 

Step 5: To communicate or not communicate

Most people build checklists as a way to ensure a procedure or task is carried out to the letter. However, the task may be quite large and communication is essential to keep things on track. In this case, creating a communication checklist can be extremely helpful. Make sure it includes who needs to talk to whom, by when, and about what.

Step 6: Test the checklist

You've followed the five steps above, now's the time to put your checklist into action. Expect that your first checklist will have some gaps. Simply take note of those gaps and continue working through the process. 

Step 7: Refine the checklist

After testing your checklist in Step 5, it's time to refine and improve the checklist. Continuous improvement is the name of the game in checklist development. As you improve the quality of your work with checklists, consider sharing your findings with other professionals.


Ready to build you own checklist? Read our article Create a basic checklist for a step by step walkthrough. 

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