Amazing Checklists

PMI United Kingdom Chapter

Ian Whittingham, PMP is a Program Manager in the Business Transformation group of a leading global news and information company. The views expressed here are his own. You may contact the author directly at ian.whittingham@thomsonreuters.com.


Practice Areas: Knowledge Management, Quality, Risk Management

Separated in time by almost three and a half millennia, they share a fundamental simplicity of design--a simplicity so lucid it enables the fault-prone grasp of fleeting, human memory to repeatedly apprehend and regulate complex processes in a systematic and repeatable way. Their characteristic serial structure guides our responses to a succession of tasks or to a flow of information in the way in which we naturally experience them--that is, as one thing occurring after another in a continuous, linear sequence.

And while we may sometimes disparage them as a bureaucratic nuisance--shopping lists on steroids that chain us to the rote performance of repetitively mundane tasks--checklists are a remarkably persistent and versatile solution to the problem of navigating a variety of complex tasks and activities. Historically, the emergence of checklists as a prominent and integral part of managing the quality and efficiency of industrial processes has been driven by successive waves of technological advancement, from the smokestack to the digital era.

Perhaps the most well-known proponent of checklists is the eponymous inspiration for this website: Henry Laurence Gantt, whose Organizing for Work (published nearly 100 years ago) introduced a system of charts for tracking (among other things) the orders for component parts from a specific contractor, as measured against the …

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"We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again, and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore."

- Mark Twain