A 10 Step Guide to Creating a Procedure Checklist

A 10 Step Guide to Creating a Procedure Checklist

Written by ComplianceBridge Policies & Procedures Team on June 2, 2021

Procedure checklists haven’t always been the norm; it took a few fatal mishaps for them to reach the mainstream. One of these instances occurred during World War Ⅱ when a new, complicated bomber plane exploded during a demonstration flight due to “pilot error”. This was revealing to U.S. officials; the pilot was extremely qualified, and if he couldn’t operate the new technology, something had to be done. Instead of retraining the aviators, they chose to create one of the first-ever pilot checklists – and their efforts were a massive success. With a simple procedure checklist in hand, the pilots were able to fly the new bombers for 1.8 million miles without a single accident. 

Today, checklists are used in almost every industry – and for good reason. Not only does the humble procedure checklist save lives, but it also has major implications for workplace productivity. Providing employees with the best possible way to complete a task frees up brainpower, reduces error, and allows for less supervision and more delegation. All of this is to say, checklists make a world of difference.

How To Create a Procedure Checklist

Step 1: Pick a Process

The first step in creating a procedure checklist is to pick a process, and it’s essential to choose just one. Things tend to get muddled when multiple activities are covered, and while there’s nothing wrong with multitasking, checklists aren’t usually the place for it. 

The main question here is which process to choose. Almost any business activity could be improved with checklists, but some benefit more than others. Complex tasks with many steps are a great place to start, as those activities have considerable potential for error. The same is true for activities that need to be carried out in a specific order, especially if missing a step could derail the entire process. And of course, you’ll want to have a procedure checklist for the activities you have to get right, those where a mistake would be devastating. In short, if an activity is important, complicated, or prone to errors, a checklist will be an incredible asset.

Step 2: Consult With Subject Matter Experts 

Once you’ve determined which process you’ll be creating a procedure checklist for, the next step is to consult with the subject matter experts, a.k.a., your employees. The people carrying out a task know the most about it; they understand the ins and outs of the technology used, the relevant terminology, and the difficulties that management may not notice. Accordingly, employee input will be extremely valuable. 

Step 3: Observe the Process in Person

It would be challenging to write a procedure checklist without a solid understanding of the procedure; watching the process in person helps prevent steps from being incorrectly documented. What’s more, even if you know how you’re technically meant to perform a function, it could look quite different in practice. Sometimes this is due to human error, but often, when a process isn’t being carried out how it’s supposed to be, it’s because there is a better way. Barring any conflicting regulations or company policies, this could be an opportunity to update the best practices for that activity.

Step 4: Keep Each Step Simple

Checklists are meant to make procedures easier for those executing them, so overly complicated checklists kind of defeat the purpose – at a certain point, following the checklist becomes more taxing than the process itself. There are a few things you can do to keep things simple. First, it helps to avoid department jargon; some employees, particularly new hires, may not be well versed in the terminology. It can also help to write each step with as few words as possible (while still clearly conveying the message) so that nothing distracts from the main point. 

As the world-renowned painter Hans Hofmann once said: “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

Step 5: Consider Additional Components

Occasionally, words aren’t enough to thoroughly describe a process; in those situations, you may need to communicate a step with visual components such as charts, graphs, and diagrams. One example of this would be a procedure checklist detailing how to use a forklift. While you could get away with only written instructions, heavy machinery is dangerous when improperly handled. If a diagram labeling each part of the forklift wards off mistakes, it’s worth including. 

Step 6: Test and Retest Your Checklist

Once you’ve written the first draft of the procedure checklist, the fun part begins: testing. You can think of the first checklist iteration as a hypothesis; you’re assuming you’ve found the best route to accomplishing a goal, but you’ll need to back that assumption up with hard evidence. 

Testers should include the people who will actually be doing the procedure, as they will be best at spotting any errors or inconsistencies. It can also be beneficial to have someone completely unfamiliar with the process try out the procedure checklist and see if they can complete it without a hitch. 

Once you’ve determined that the procedure checklist works for the typical scenario, you can test out atypical scenarios. Steps that could change based on the situation can be addressed with if/then statements. For instance, a delivery driver may typically hand the package directly to the recipient, but if the recipient isn’t home, then they instead can leave the delivery at their doorstep. 

Step 7: Get Final Approval

The level of difficulty for this step can vary greatly depending on the organization and the number of signatures you have to collect. If you need more than a few, it could be advantageous to gather them electronically. By doing so, you not only reduce the time it takes to get approval, but also better ensure that the checklist makes it to the right people (and not to a massive pile of documents on their desks). 

Step 8: Distribution

Once the procedure checklist is complete, tested, and approved – it’s ready to share. Though this step seems rather straightforward, in practice, it can be anything but. Luckily, this is another area where technology is a game-changer. With the right software, you can instantly share procedure checklists with the groups who will be using them and assess in real-time who has and hasn’t reviewed. By automating the distribution process, you can guarantee that the necessary materials reach the people who need them.

Step 9: Quiz Employees on Their Understanding

A procedure checklist is only effective when it’s followed, and it’s hard to follow something you don’t understand. Before putting a process into practice, you’ll want to ascertain that every relevant player fully grasps how it should be executed. One way to accomplish this is to quiz employees, and with ComplianceBridge’s software, doing so is a piece of cake. Companies can create custom assessments, instantly distribute them, analyze the results, and even send follow-up material to those who need extra assistance. 

Step 10: Schedule a Time to Review

A procedure checklist is never truly done; it should be a living document, one that evolves with the times. New governmental regulations, advances in technology, company restructuring, etc., could all have significant impacts on best practices for a process. Regular review ensures that the procedure is still the best way to accomplish the goal at hand. What’s more, by revisiting a procedure checklist after a set amount of time, companies can measure the checklist’s success at accomplishing what it set out to (such as reducing error, speeding up the process, etc.).  

Creating Procedure Checklists With ComplianceBridge

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to managing business processes. Creating and implementing procedure checklists can be an arduous task, but with ComplianceBridge, it doesn’t have to be. TotalCompliance has all of the tools necessary to not only streamline the creation of a checklist, but better manage its entire lifecycle. 

To learn more about our proven solutions, request a demo today!

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