One of the habits I push in my shop is to over-rely on checklists and to game plan any change we put on to my Power boxes or in my Data Center. A good checklist is invaluable in situations where you have to take down a critical piece of equipment, make some significant change, and bring it back up again in a short amount of time (say in three hours on a Sunday morning).
IMHO, a good checklist does the following things when you make changes:
- It forces you to game plan the change, to script all the critical moves so you can be better prepared.
- It lets all stakeholders know what to expect. A checklist is more valuable for bringing line management on board, but it may be too overwhelming for executive management.
- It exposes gaps in your implementation procedures. It forces you to think more deeply about what you’re doing, uncovering blind spots that you didn’t know were there.
- It allows you to put deployment somewhat on auto-pilot. When you start the project, you don’t have to think about what to do next unless something goes wrong. This is invaluable when you roll out of bed at 3:00 AM Sunday and you’re performing a project with low sleep. The checklist can walk you through your project, and help you avoid the mistakes of having to remember each step in your head.
- It cuts down on mistakes. It’s easier to skip steps when you’re implementing a change based on your memory. Following a forced predefined checklist procedure really helps keep you on task. I’ve found that many of my project mistakes can be directly attributed to me skipping a step either because I didn’t have a checklist or I didn’t follow it close enough (I know. Stupid, right?).
- A checklist provides built-in documentation of what you did, start and stop times, additional notes, and what went wrong. You can use it as documentation and as a historical record for auditors and troubleshooting.
- It allows someone else to pick up the project if the primary resource isn’t available. Unforeseen things can happen and sometimes your best resource isn’t available on implementation day. A good checklist will allow a talented substitute to step in and get the job done.
- It allows for an efficient handoff to the next resource. Projects aren’t done in a vacuum. With a checklist, the next technician/resource can see what’s been done and what needs to be done, even after you’ve gone home.
Being an IT manager for over 20 years, I’ve found that using checklists and documenting project implementation should be second nature to almost anyone in this business. I sometimes get surprised by vendors and co-workers who are implementing a project without any visible notes or procedures. I realize these are brilliant and talented people, but there is simply no substitute for the preparation and practice you can go through with a good checklist.
Everyone has their own way of implementing a project. But for my money, a good checklist with solid procedures is the best change management tool you can use to insure your projects get done within their timeframes and with minimum drama.