Checklists, process drift, SOP’s


It is a good idea to consider how things take place. What sequence of events must transpire to ensure that when you need to be ready, you are? In the event of a crisis – what are you going to do? Is there a specific list of action items that need to happen in order for the event to be mitigated? The answer, in many cases, is yes (for most people).  That is why there are medical professionals that require standard work in the form of checklists prior to or post operation. By operation, I mean an activity. It does not have to be a hospital room. For example, when I used to donate plasma to Baxter (a.k.a. BioLife), there were SOP’s (standard operating procedures) just for hooking up or discharging a donor. If you were a pilot – there is a “preflight” (and post, and emergency…) checklist. A good book on the topic is called, The Checklist Manifestoby Atul Gawande

I bring this up, because I truly believe that no matter how talented we are, or how many times we have performed a specific task, there is a margin of error. While in a training today, I identified with one quote. That is, “It is better to be safe 100 times, than dead once.” (Mark Twain).  It is true; one critical error or even a non critical error can spawn a cascade of events. Replication, is just that, the exact copy of something. In manufacturing – the costs go up with mistakes. That could be in the form of media attention which creates bad PR (GM, Toyota recalls or Kraft cottage cheese potential spoilage) or just an increase in COGs from changes to a process.

There is a fascinating phenomenon that happens over time which is process drifting or shifting. It can be explained quite simply by small changes that take place over time. The game telephone is an over exaggerated version of this, but is still a valid example. It starts with one minute change by an operator or machine. Then gradually, the process looks nothing like it did and depending on what checks you have in place will determine if you catch it or not. I have even been witness to processes that were deviated against for so long, that to change the process would actually change the product profile that the customer expected. In that case, the cost of goods was increased based on a drift which created a “new” set of specifications, which were the drifted process, not the original or intended.

Cover of "The Checklist Manifesto: How to...Consider taking a task and standardizing it, using the operators to create the ideal list of checks. Sure, you will want to involve others from management, quality (etc.) but start with the basics. What are the most simple things – which are critical to the process? Also, pick up the book – Mr. Gawande is really the SME (subject matter expert).



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Atul Gawande, Checklist, Checklist Manifesto, Gawande, Preflight, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
Business: General
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