Tick-tock, Tick-tock … Checklists are not insulting.

Traits most Lean Practitioners have is a passion for 1) White Boards and 2) there love of Checklists!!


We love to create checklists to verify processes, we have checklists to verify workplace organization, we have checklists to verify attributes to ensure quality predictability, we have process checklists just to make sure people follow process and the most likely a checklist to ensure that all the other checklists have been completed. In some cases, there are tiered escalating checklists to ensure others have completed their checklists … and accurately completing all these checklists can be very time consuming almost bordering on being wasteful.


Indeed, some people view the exercise of completing a checklist as an insult to their intelligence or perhaps questioning their workmanship or commitment … But hey, even Pilots use checklists even if they have 100’s of hours of piloting experience because they have so many things to attend to during a take-off or landing.



Primarily the purpose of a checklist is to act as an Alarm Clock for the human brain!

It just acts as a reminder that you have checked everything that you were supposed to check in order that you can have a flawless execution with no “Disturbances to Flow”.


Some tips to consider making your checklists more effective …


Checks need to be digital … they can only be answered with a yes or no, if they cannot you will be the victim of subjectivity by the checker so you may need several check questions where you had just one.


Checklists are subliminal … they are a very powerful in creating mental emotional attachment between the person and the process they are checking. Should something negative happen it is always easy to question why a check was answered in a positive fashion. Even though a person may “pencil whip” through the checklist it does mentally attach them to the process … it is again that alarm clock for the brain thing.


Checklists are also a great assistant for managing Distributed Accountability which needs to be linked with a very disciplined Visual Workplace.



Distributed Accountability can be either confused or synonymous with Standard Work. In the case of Distributed Accountability, you had the vision of how a process, work area or a specific machine should look and or be looked after. You can provide detailed work instructions on how it should be maintained and then you apply a checklist to ensure compliance to your instruction. This where we have over time evolved the application of TPM which started with Operators doing equipment self-checks to performing checks while doing some minor maintenance tasks to today where we consolidate our checklists into Total Productive Management to ensure equipment checks are completed but also cleanliness, replenishment of supplies or other operational and quality activities so it becomes more holistic with its effectiveness.


Finally, make your checklists visible. It is not shameful to show you want to see visible accountability to support your business either from a regulatory sense or how you want the environment to delight the customer while providing a professional environment for your employee to function. I make every attempt to make the checklist viable for a month but still with daily and weekly checks. It creates peer accountability and allows me to witness potential trends over a period of time … plus at the end of the month the document provides me with a permanent record and good data for reflection and improvements. A great enabler for this is the use of a TPM Station !!


Your checklists need to be dynamic and hard as you may most likely you will not get it correct during the first pass … you will have checks that are not necessary while other check items you would think would be a natural instinct will actually require a reminder … that darn Brain Alarm Clock thing again …


You always need to test your checklists … it is not enough to just create one and hope that it will be followed … that just becomes a wish. After you have created your checklist solicit a stranger to complete the checklist while you observe … and does the process of completing the check create the behaviors and the environment that you had visioned and desired? If yes, CONGRATULATIONS! you have successfully Distributed Accountability.


Unlike your Alarm Clock, just make sure people cannot hit the “Snooze” button.

Many Lean practitioners advocate that a founding principal of an effective Lean program is based on “Respect for People”. However, before you can gain respect you need to build an infrastructure of “Distributed Accountability” … and believe me this requires hard work, tenacity, and dedication because it takes some serious investment of time and effort before results will be delivered.


I believe that during this turbulent economic time organizations have avoided the power of Distributed Accountability and have reverted to traditional Command and Control. I am seeing organizations reduce their workforce without a specific plan that will preserve Value Stream Performance. Instead, we see them reduce the workforce and then to re-engineer the process … in a solid Lean Enterprise Infrastructure, it is easy to engineer out costs.


So how does Distributed Accountability look like in a Lean Enterprise? If we look closely at Workplace Organization (5S+1) we are forcing accountability within our workplace to ensure that our employees have designated a space for everything and that everything is in it’s place. 5S when properly complemented with Work Instructions, Work-Balance charts and Checklists will ensure standardized work is accomplished with predictable out-puts.

Checklists are good but you need to acknowledge the key attributes to ensure that they will be effective.


Tick-tock, Tick-tock, Tick-tock … RING !!!!!!

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