Checklists versus procedures

March 11, 2009

Here is something that I have not been at all clear about: the sort of checklist usage that I've written about is specifically using checklists in order to plan and organize one time things, such as migrating our mail storage.

I care about this because I think of it as a different sort of thing entirely than ongoing work that we do repeatedly and routinely. If you do something routinely and it is not trivial, you should have a documented procedure for it. However, that procedure may or may not involve an actual checklist that you go through, depending on what works for you.

(Arguably it is worth documenting even trivial procedures.)

Locally I would not use a checklist for most routine procedures, because how I use checklists specifically involves marking things off (in electronic form I add 'DONE' after each step in the checklist file; on paper I mark things with a pen). If I tried to use literal checklists for routine procedures, I would be making a copy of the master checklist every time in order to do this marking off, and I am confidant that that would get very annoying very fast.

(One way of putting this is that using an explicit checklist is additional overhead. I am willing to accept the overhead in exceptional situations, and indeed in those it may not even be overhead, but in routine ones it can rapidly descend to bureaucratic make-work.)

Sometimes, in the process of documenting our changes and actions we do wind up writing what I could call an inverted checklist (where you add entries as you do things, instead of removing them), often based on a documented procedure. But we don't do this all of the time for various reasons, including that it is often too much documentation.

Written on 11 March 2009.
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Last modified: Wed Mar 11 01:18:11 2009
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