BA Productivity Tip: Embrace The Checklist
Just about everyone I have ever met in the business change world is busy. Whether you’re a business analyst, product owner, project manager, or some other type of change practitioner, you probably find yourself juggling meetings, project work, emails, and lots more besides. No wonder there is seemingly a whole industry that revolves around automation and other ways of increasing personal productivity.
In this article, I want to share a secret with you. It’s probably one of the most effective productivity tips I have ever picked up, and it’s also one that is seemingly the most mundane. It’s also one that will probably (initially) make your eyes roll with either boredom or cynicism… strap yourself in!!
Yep, that’s it, the humble old checklist. I can almost hear the collective groan of disbelief, and believe me, I get it. As change practitioners our work is complicated. How on earth could some crazy BA be suggesting we reduce our work to a set of predictable steps. In reality, I’m certainly not trivializing our work, so I should probably explain…
The Checklist Manifesto
Friend, colleague and fellow BA Times author Christina Lovelock shares my love for checklists and introduced me to the fantastic book The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it. The author, very eloquently in my opinion, makes the point that there are repeatable tasks even in the most complicated of vocations. Pilots use checklists to make sure they don’t miss anything or to navigate emergency situations where the most likely best set of decisions have been pre-decided. Apparently, surgeons use checklists too. If it’s good enough for aviation and medicine, surely there’s a potential for us too?
A key here is repeatability. How many times a day do you end up wasting time making a decision that you’ve made hundreds of times before? Are there some decisions that you could ‘systemize’ with a checklist to reduce the cognitive burden? Here are some possible examples:
- Workshops: Whether virtual or in-person, I have some skeleton checklists with key planning activities for workshops. There might be some activities on the checklist that I deliberately skip, but the list ensures that I consider them and don’t miss something obvious.
- Travel: Not something many of us is doing much of right now, but if you’ve ever arrived at a meeting without a crucial cable or converter you’ll know the value of a checklist!
- Validation and verification: Whenever a document is being reviewed for quality, accuracy and when it’s being signed off, it’s useful to consider what is being reviewed. In fact, when you think about it, some of the acronyms we use are a form of a checklist, aren’t they? (take the INVEST acronym for example).
- Elicitation questions: Every elicitation session is different, but I have several “question banks” that I use as inspiration. Not quite a checklist, but a similar concept.
There are probably hundreds of other examples too. The key, as with so many techniques, is intelligent application. Much like templates shouldn’t be followed dogmatically and should be adapted to a context, the same is true of checklists. Plus, they should be kept up to date and regularly revisited. It should be noted, of course, there will be some things that don’t lend themselves to checklists at all (and there’s no point forcing a checklist somewhere it doesn’t fit).
So, checklists can help to reduce the cognitive burden and can help us decide something once but enact it many times. Perhaps this is a way of freeing some time in a busy schedule?