What The Checklist Manifesto teaches us about Business Automation

Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto has quickly become a business classic.  If you haven’t read it an oversimplification of the book is that using a checklist massively increases quality and accuracy and prevents errors.  He works through how checklists allow skyscrapers to be built in months with a failure rate of nearly zero.  How pilots used checklists to make routine tasks like takeoffs become safer, and ultimately how they help in his industry, medicine.  

So what can his book teach us about software development and business automation.  At Switchbox we took 2 months to read through the book with our team and then asked that question.  So far we’ve seen it applied to some of our clients businesses and we wanted to share them with you.  One client had a problem getting employees to log time accurately and on time.  Their industry bills the state of Ohio for services rendered at the end of each month.  If they don’t log their time by the end of each month they loose all ability to bill for it.  This problem has been going on for over a decade and they did not think it was solvable.  What was the solution?  We created a dashboard for managers to quickly see at the end of each day who had logged time and who hadn’t.  If the employee didn’t log time they were sent an email automatically.  If they still had not logged it by the following day their manager got an email.  What was the checklist?  Simply put, at the end of each day send a reminder email to each employee who has not logged their time.  A simple check on a checklist done by their online project management application we developed increase compliance almost overnight.

One more example is for a client in the continuing education field.  They had an issue with their members waiting until the last minute to send in documentation of education credits being completed.  We asked a simple question, why do people wait till the last minute?  The answer: they forget until they get the 30 day termination warning for the licensing board. The solution: We created a report that allowed the director to see all people who needed to report more credits 90 days before the time limit.  All those people were put on a mail merge list so they would get a reminder along with some marketing materials for events in the next 90 days they could attend.  The results were that members attended more relevant education courses because they were not rushed, they attended more of our clients events instead of their competitors events (because the reminder came with the marketing material, and our clients staff spread the workload out from a few weeks to a few months.  It was a win for everyone.  The simple check was to send a reminder letter 90 days prior to credit reporting deadlines.  

If you haven’t read the book we would definitely suggest it.  It’s not just for software developers, or business process management guru’s.  It’s a great book for everyone.