Checklists & Construction Success

This was first published in LinkedIn

I have been a proponent of checklist all through my construction management days and I usually practice what I champion. The checklists has been part and parcel of construction process and procedures for years. Other high risk industries like Aviation, or ship building too uses this as missing a step could result into expensive losses of time, money and sometimes human lives. The Hedge fund managers too have their own checklists.

In our industry it is mandatory to attach a checklist while submitting “method statements” or ITP (Inspection and Testing Protocol) for consultant’s review. These are equally important while conducting a Risk Assessment before commencing a fresh construction activity at sites.
It is difficult to apprehend why there should be such resistance in implementing a powerful tool like this one in their day to day work activities. It would be interesting if a research was carried out to find out if the reason behind this reticence is ignorance, over confidence, the “I don’t need it, I know it all” state of mind or a combination of many such factors.

As a matter of fact, Checklist are tools to make an expert perform better. Human memory and attention often fails when it comes to routine matters and important aspects can be easily overlooked. Checklist can solve our dilemma about when to follow the protocol and when one’s own instincts. It also comes handy when faced with a situation requiring us to process high volume of information.
Aviation pilots uses one before takeoff and landing and someone once explained that is not a recipe for how to fly a plane but a reminder of key things that often get forgotten or missed if not checked. Since then when I notice the aircrew making the routine checks before takeoff, I get reassured.

The organizations that practically implement these processes are few and far in-between. This results in high volume of avoidable rework and frequent incidents leading to life changing losses to humans. The direct impact on the project is invariably low quality, higher cost and delayed completion.
It was a shot in the arm listening to Dr. Atul Gawande, a Boston based surgeon highlighting the advantages of using Checklists in his TED talk. His narration about collaborating with WHO to develop a universal “surgical checklist” and making significant difference to the world was very intense. He admitted that the idea of checklist was borrowed from high risk industries such as aviation and skyscraper construction. Interestingly enough it was a team from Boeing who provided him assistance while preparing the first checklist for medical field.

Checklist can be categorized into two distinct types. The first one is “Do-Compare” checklist for general routine tasks which one does out of memory and compare against the list. The second one is “Read-Do” checklist are like recipe and mainly for events that are very new for the users.

I wish we play our part to use this powerful tools more extensively to improve the KPI (key performance indicators) as well as make our construction project sites a safer place to work.


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