Problems can be simple, complicated or complex.

While being sick for a couple of days I had time to read “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gamande. A few things he said I found so valuable that I wanted to share it and help me not to forget. (note, this is my personal interpretation – I recommend reading the book!)

checklist on clipboardSimple problems are based on repetitive tasks. These are basic in nature and can be learnt easily. To ensure one doesn’t forget any steps checklist are used.

Complicated problems involve at least two but often more different knowledge domains. A single person usually cannot solve such a problem on their own. Subject matter experts are involved or multiple checklists employed. Interdependencies exist. The problem owner solves the issue through coordination of domain expertise and specific checklists.

Complex problems are a different matter. They are repetitive to an extent. However unforeseen events or circumstances can be expected. Engaging in the resolution of such a problem by following a checklist that worked before or by using a standard procedure will result in failure. A secondary process is required that deals with the exceptions. Or in other words:

When to follow protocol and when to follow your judgement (or should I say ‘common sense’).

When humans are involved as part of the problem, you most certainly have a complex problem at hand. People do not necessarily behave predictably, even if exposed to the same stimulant. Their reaction is different because of their knowledge, believe system, and how they currently feel (among other things the social scientists will point out).

When you are facing a problem with unknown environmental factors, although the problem is very similar to one with a known solution, you have a complicated problem to solve. Eliminate the factors that don’t apply and add the domain expertise for the new factors. Double check your assumptions against the problem at hand. Building a residential home is a good example. Houses are never quite the same, although they have a lot in common. The building material can differ significantly, for example: timber, stone, or straw bale. A checklist for a masonry house won’t do for building with straw!

What you do on a weekday morning before you go to work is a simple problem – when you are late and in a hurry. Having a simple checklist (could be in your head) helps not to forget any essentials particular when leaving the house (the right dress for the occasion, car keys, wallet, cell phone, the address where your son is playing football in the afternoon).

I will follow up with a second post on the question above.


4 comments on “Checklists

  1. […] my previous post I left an open […]

  2. […] policies, and procedures. Do we follow these too blindly or not strict enough? Remember the checklists. Checklists are there so we don’t forget anything we actually know plus they are great […]

  3. […] Act on what you have promised. Write down what was said (summarise) and make an action checklist. […]

  4. […] checklists Checklists are simple reminders that important steps are not missed. They are not step by step instructions […]

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