The evolution of checklists in my work

March 28, 2010

Over the past few years, I've become a real fan of using checklists. But I wasn't always this way, and I think how I evolved to using checklists in my work is an interesting illustration of how small cultural things can make a big difference.

As far as I can reverse engineer the evolution, it goes like this:

A few years ago I switched jobs within the university, moving to a new group. The new group had and has a strong culture of writing what we call 'worklogs', an email report of anything we do on our systems. Coming into the group, I picked up on this and started doing it myself.

(In theory my old job also wrote worklogs, but for various reasons we fell out of the habit and thus the practice of doing so.)

Our worklogs usually have more than just high level descriptions of what we did; they have full details, sometimes down to the actual commands and logs of their output. Again, this comes from our local culture. The easy way to do this is to draft your worklog message as you actually go through whatever you're doing.

If I'm writing down all of my commands and actions when I do things, right down to cut & paste, I might as well first write down the commands in my draft worklog message and then copy them into my root session instead of vice versa. That way I don't have to trim out shell prompts and other extraneous bits, and I'm lazy. And once I go that far, I might as well write down the full steps in advance, commands and commentary and all, essentially writing a full draft of my worklog message before I start doing anything.

Voila, I have just written a checklist.

(I did not go through all of these steps instantly; each of them was an incremental shift over time. Nor did I see where they were taking me before I wound up writing up a checklist and walking through it.)

Written on 28 March 2010.
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Last modified: Sun Mar 28 01:11:37 2010
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