Monday, February 22, 2016

The Power of Visualizing Checklists

“…the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably.”  Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

We all make lists of activities for today and in the future. As we write them down and/or type them up, we form categories if the list is long. We rearrange and rename the categories. When everything looks good, we can relax, right? Not really; I’ll explain why.

After a month of working on a checklist for a large parallel upgrade project, I decided use Microsoft Visio to represent the checklist’s categories visually as a diagram. Each box in the diagram would correspond to set of tasks. As I was thinking about these boxes, a certain order became clear; an order of what was being done and which team was responsible.

The major sections of an upgrade are Preparation, Pre-Upgrade, Upgrade, Post-Upgrade, and Support. These sections are natural top level boxes. Underneath each of these top level boxes are their corresponding task categories.

As I created and placed the boxes under the sections, I renamed some of the categories and consolidated others. The visual representation allowed me to “see” that some were the same, and some tasks were missing. I could reorder the task categories. I could also see that we needed more support tasks after the upgrade.

I know I could have used MS Project to do this, but it’s not as flexible. Project also presupposes activities that may not add any value to this type of visualization. If you look at the end visual result above, hopefully you’ll see what I mean; by breaking out categories as boxes, it’s easier to see gaps and similarities than if you just had a long list.

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