Friday, February 29, 2008

Marketing Musings: Ticking Your Way to Millions

Back in Week 48 I talked about the power of systems and how simple checklists for each and every task in your business can help tremendously with the entire service or product delivery process. This month in Fast Company Magazine, the authors of Made to Stick highlight some amazing benefits of a simple checklist - here's an excerpt:

The holy grail of checklists may be the one created by Dr. Peter Pronovost of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Intensive-care units (ICUs) often use intravenous lines to deliver medication, and these lines can become infected, causing nasty health complications. Pronovost, frustrated by these preventable events, compiled a five-step checklist.

The checklist contained straightforward advice: Doctors should wash their hands before inserting an IV, a patient's skin should be cleaned with antiseptic at the point of insertion, and so forth. There was no new science and nothing controversial--only the results were surprising.

When Michigan ICUs put the checklist into practice over a period of 18 months, line infections were virtually eliminated, saving the hospitals an estimated $175 million, because they no longer had to treat the associated complications. Oh, and it saved about 1,500 lives.

Amazing right? Simple right? The same Dr Provonost goes on to say:

People fear checklists because they see them as dehumanizing. Maybe that's because people associate them with the exhaustive lists that let random teenagers successfully run fast-food chains. They think if something is simple enough to be broken down into discrete steps, a monkey can do it. Well, if that's true, grab a pilot's checklist, and try your luck with a 767.

Then warns:

Even if you're sold on the value, beware checklist creep. A checklist doesn't mean huge binders full of obsessive and likely counterproductive ISO 9000-style process documentation. As Pronovost says, "One mistake I've seen in health care is that people will produce these 200-page process guidelines that nobody ever reads." You're not trying to create a high-resolution photograph of the status quo. In fact, if the status quo worked perfectly, you wouldn't need a checklist, you'd need a bonus.

Checklists simply make big screwups less likely. "We wanted people to standardize on the mission-critical elements--the areas where we have the strongest evidence," Pronovost says. "And these things that are mission critical, we've got to do them every time."

Where could your business benefit from a checklist?


Manny said...

I was re-awakened to checklists by the writings of billionaire Charlie Munger. then I came across the New Yorker article on checklists. In a sense, isn't "winging it" kind of a losing proposition going in? The more complicated the process, the sillier it would be to avoid preparation.

Scott Hannan said...

Manny – it sure is, but every day in millions of businesses around the world the owners and/or their employees are “winging it”. These are separate issues. If the business owner is winging it, he/she needs to go through the entire process of systematizing their business for peak performance. If they don’t do this, customers will receive inconsistent services and products, not to mention attitudes, policies etc which will ultimately lead to a business that is not as successful as it could be.

If employees are winging it, it simply means that the owner has not put in place processes to ensure they are following the system. Signed checklists are one ways (when the owner is not present) of ensuring employees think about the steps in delivering outstanding service. Depending on turnover, the checklists may be referred to less frequently but that can also lead to service breakdown.

In summary, yes, winging it is a disaster for any business. Once the system is as close to perfected as possible, checklists are one tool to ensure that the system delivers on its promise over and over.