Make Everyday Maintenance Checklists as Simple as Possible
In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, renowned surgeon Atul Gawande illustrates how a simple checklist can have amazing results on everything from safety to decision-making. His book profiles the effects of adding pre-surgical checklists to operating rooms and the effect they had on improving patient outcomes. But far from the operating room, Dr. Gawande shows us the power of simple, mindful procedure can improve anything we do — including manufacturing.
Preventive maintenance checklists are prevalent throughout the manufacturing environment and are proven to be effective. According to a study conducted by A.D. Swain, and H.E. Guttmann, “written procedure will reduce the error rate to 5%; supplementing that procedure with a checklist will reduce the error rate to 1%.” But there’s a caveat. The checklist needs to be simple.
Simple equals effective
The power of checklists is twofold. Its first purpose is to standardize procedure. Its second, and arguably more important, purpose is habit formation. Checklists make us stop and think before we do, creating positive habits that translate to thoughtful action.
Consider the power of a checklist for maintenance safety. Before a technician begins working on a machine, he or she consults a checklist. The first item on the checklist is to check the lock out tag out system to ensure the machine can’t accidently turn on. Right away, you’ve mitigated risk. And, if a technician knows that the first item on the checklist is always going to be “check lock out tag out,” they’ll automatically get into the habit of doing that for every machine they work on.
Here, simple is effective. Rather than a paragraph explaining machine safety or a complicated procedure to evaluate the machine, the first task is a purposeful one: do this to prevent that. Check safety lock outs to prevent injury. Simple.
Train against the checklist
Making checklists simple also has the added benefit of engraining good habits. You don’t always need to explain the subtasks or the reasoning behind a checklist item for it to be effective. Stripping down the checklist to the essentials can have the same effect, according to Dr. Gawande. Employees are less likely to cut corners, skip steps, or improvise on a shorter checklist as compared to a long one.
When training new technicians or revising maintenance procedures, simple checklists offer the most benefit in standardizing approach. A 10-step checklist of the most important steps is easier for employees to learn and be mindful of, versus a 50-step checklist with subroutines and optional steps. Focus on what matters most and build the checklist around these things:
- Safety steps and preventive actions.
- Due processes to prevent common errors.
- Simple “do” steps that are irrefutable.
- Essential steps necessary for success.
What happens when you have numerous steps and complicated checklists? Dr. Gawande recommends breaking them down. It’s okay to have three separate checklists for three separate phases of machine maintenance. What matters is that they’re all focused on a specific action and outcome. The longer the checklist, the easier it is to get lost. Breaking checklists into specific actions helps workers do the same for the tasks in their mind. Chunk processes are easier to master than drawn-out concepts. They’re even easier when you have a basic checklist to abide by.