Checklists for Performance Support

, , | Colin Dawson

The Americans developed the B-17 bomber during World War 2 which helped win the war.  The B-17 was the first aircraft to get a checklist.

This came about when, on the first B-17 flight, 3 men were seriously injured, and a few days later died, when the aircraft stalled shortly after take-off.  After further investigation, it was found the Captain had left the elevator lock on, and the aircraft was unresponsive to pitch control.

During a think-tank session, it was determined that the pilots needed a checklist.  It wasn’t a condemnation of the pilots, or that the aircraft was too hard to fly, rather the aircraft was just too complex for a pilot’s memory.  Today checklists are a vital part of many professions including airline pilots and surgeons.

The checklist is one of the most brilliant cognitive aids devised by some very smart humans.  Hidden in this deceptively simple format is a type of performance support that has saved lives in the air and on the operating table.  Every profession or job has a place for checklists.

Checklists work well for both beginners and experts because they free up brain resources, sparing the user from having to remember every element of a process or every item to verify.

Benefits of Checklists

Checklists get universal use because they:

  • Are inexpensive to create
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to apply
  • Easy to adapt for another purpose
  • They reduce errors
  • They provide immediate benefits during use

Disadvantages of checklists

Checklists do have a few negatives, but not many

  • Checklists can be incomplete
  • They may be difficult to use in some situations
  • There is a risk of simplification
  • Experts may be offended at the thought of needing a checklist

Types of Checklists

Maybe one of these types of checklist may find a use among your projects:

  • Step-by-step Procedures:  These lists take a person through a complex procedure to minimise errors, e.g., preparation for flight
  • Verification and Inspection: These lists allow someone to check that a task has been done correctly for inspection purposes, e.g., lock-down
  • Evaluation: An evaluation checklist allows the user to assess a person or product.  For instance, whether a product has all the features and benefits you are looking for.
  • Troubleshooting: A checklist can be used for finding a technical or mechanical error when it lists ways to troubleshoot common problems, e.g., checking a computer fault.
  • Observation: This checklist outlines a set of possible behaviours an observer can check off when trying to understand how a team member does a task or reacts to certain situations.

Checklists for Performance Support

Using checklists for performance support is not a new concept.  In her book, “Job Aids for Performance Support”, Allison Rossett explains that for a job aid to qualify as performance support, it must “… house valued information, processes or perspectives that target a need or task.”  A simple “To-Do” list may not qualify as performance support, but guiding a team member through a process or helping an analyst evaluate a product to make a decision will qualify.

Checklists can be downloaded into a Modlette using the document function.

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