The Return to Checklists
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Wednesday, June 2, 2010
I recently read an interesting book review in "Business Week" magazine regarding
"The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right" by Dr. Atul Gawande.
Evidently, Gawande has discovered the beneficial use of checklists, not only in
the operating room of hospitals but elsewhere. He observes that due to the
unusual complexity of today's tasks, such as performing major surgery, something
as simple as a checklist can greatly reduce accidents, both large and small,
which kills thousands of Americans a year.
The concept of checklists is certainly not new, as they have been used in the
aerospace industry for years. However, they have sharply diminished over the
years as computers have crept into just about every aspect of our lives.
Nonetheless, as Gawande points out, this low-tech approach is a viable
cost-effective solution for attacking complicated procedures.
The late Les Matthies, the "Dean of Systems," is generally regarded as the
father of the "Playscript" procedure, an effective writing technique. "Playscript"
had a profound effect on creating people procedures and the development of
checklists. To understand "Playscript" one has to understand Les' background. He
graduated from the University of California at Berkeley during the Depression
with a degree in Journalism. Being a writer, he tried his hand at writing
Broadway plays. However, work was hard to come by during this period and when
World War II broke out, Les was recruited by an aircraft manufacturer in the
Midwest to systematize the production of aircraft. Relying on his experience as
a writer, he devised the "Playscript" technique for developing procedures.
Basically, Les wrote a procedure like a script to a play; there are three parts
to a Playscript procedure:
1. PURPOSE SECTION - Containing the Business Purpose of the procedure.
2. SETUP SECTION - Listing all of the inputs, outputs, and files to be used
during the execution of the procedure.
3. OPERATION SECTION - Listing all of the instructions required to perform the
procedure. Each operation is described using action verbs and nouns. Les
stressed the following guidelines:
* Avoid needless complexity in word choice and sentence structure. Express an
idea in the simplest possible way.
* Begin each Operation with an action verb.
* DO NOT begin the first sentence of the operational step with a conditional
clause, such as "if," "when" or "should." Begin the sentence with "compare" or
"evaluate" as a verb, followed by sub-clauses; for example:
COMPARE the value of "A" to "B":
A. If "A" is greater than "B", go to step 4.
B. If "B" is greater than "A", go to step 16.
Here is an example of a set of operations using "Playscript":
1. Logon to computer using the standard logon procedure.
2. Access "Order Processing System" screens by double-clicking on the "Order
Processing" icon on the computer desktop.
3. Select the "Order Processing Maintenance" icon to invoke the "Order
A. Enter your PASSWORD when prompted by the computer.
4. Select the type of data entry you wish to perform from the window's
A. If you wish to enter a customer's order, select the "Orders" pull-down-choice
from the "Customer" action-bar-choice. Go to step 6 for additional instructions.
B. If you wish to query the status of a customer's order, select the "Status"
pull-bar-choice from the "Customer" action-bar-choice. Go to step 8 for
C. For all other queries, proceed to the next step (5).
In the end, "Playscript" represents an effective checklist for performing
complicated procedures. For details on "Playscript," see my article, "The
Language of Systems" from Aug. 22, 2005
As an aside, it is a little known fact that Matthies' "Playscript" was the
technique used to devise computer program procedural languages such as COBOL,
FORTRAN, and PL/1.
I find it rather amusing Les' work is resurfacing again. Then again, maybe the
lesson here is not everything has to be conquered by the computer, that simpler
less-expensive solutions are available to solve complicated problems. As for me,
I guess what goes around, comes around.
"Systems will fail more for the lack of administrative procedures than well
written computer procedures."
- Bryce's Law
(A tip of the hat to Dick Webster in Columbus)
Keep the Faith!
Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective
Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of
M. Bryce & Associates
(MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the
management consulting field. He can be reached at email@example.com
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2010-06-04 11:07:04 in Personal Articles