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6 Things MSPs Should Know About Checklists

Posted August 9, 2018by Joshua Oakes

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Getting things done is an essential part of being in business. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Increased task complexity, combined with the need to delegate, creates situations where you have to trust others on your team to perform essential tasks.

At IT Glue, we’ve found that the best way to make sure that everything gets done, in the right order, is by using checklists. For those in the know, checklists are powerful tools. For those not in the know, they’re probably used mostly for grocery shopping. Let’s take a look at some things you might not know about the humble checklist.

1. Checklists Are Used in Every Industry

Some of the earliest adopters of the checklist were fighter pilots, back in the 1940s. This is a group of people for whom success would not be possible unless everything was absolutely perfect. The checklist provided them with the structure they needed to ensure that their aircraft was perfect, and that they themselves were 100 percent ready.

But checklists are used everywhere now.

Vehicles in any transportation industry are subject to pre-checks before deployment. Manufactured goods are subject to specific, structured tests driven by checklists. Even in office jobs, checklists have proven valuable for ensuring that routine tasks are performed to a high rate of consistency. It is difficult to imagine an industry today that doesn’t make use of checklists in some way, but in a lot of cases there is still room to extract more value from the checklist.

2. Checklists Are Complementary to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

On the surface, an SOP and a checklist are both documents designed to help you get things done the right way. But there’s a key difference between the two, and it lies in the more comprehensive nature of the SOP.

The SOP assumes that the reader needs to know how to get things done, and explains how. The checklist assumes that the reader already knows the how, and just needs structure for the what. SOPs are great for training, but checklists are great for anybody, just to keep people on point.

3. Everybody Forgets Things

The reason checklists are so powerful is that they guard against the most common sources of error. People don’t make mistakes because they want to; they make mistakes because they’re distracted, tired, or otherwise unfocused. Some folks are forgetful, but even someone who performs the same routine task almost every day can still forget a step once in a while, especially if they have something else on their mind. Checklists guard against this.

4. Checklists Provide Structure to Complex Tasks

Some tasks are quite complex, making it more difficult to remember all the steps. This is especially the case when multiple people are working on the project, with different people doing different tasks. The checklist structure allows a manager to outline each specific task, and make sure that each task is assigned to the right person.

Creating checklists for complex tasks also forces the manager to think about all the different steps that need to be conducted, and what the antecedents are. It’s not a substitute for project management, but not everything is big enough or complex enough to require project management tools. But there’s still a lot of complex work that needs to be done, and checklists can ensure that every step is done, and in the right sequence. 

5. Checklists Are Fantastic for Virtual Teams

I built a virtual team at Ratebeer to ensure that all of the information on the website was accurate and up-to-date. This meant training people all over the world, remotely, on how to perform the basic tasks, which consisted of walking through a series of steps to verify information. You might not have a virtual team that big, but if anybody is working from home, or at another office, you can use checklists to maintain visibility into their job performance, from anywhere. It can be difficult to ensure consistency in virtual teams because of the limited oversight, but checklists provide some of the oversight you need to improve consistency.

6. Checklists Are Perfect for MSPs

MSPs perform a lot of routine tasks—setting up workstations, password resets, onboarding clients, etc. So, there’s a lot of opportunity to leverage the power of checklists.

The structure that checklists provide to work helps to overcome your limitations as a human being. They’re a perfect defense against distraction and fatigue. You can deploy checklists in all areas of your business, from the service desk to the sales team. If you’re not using checklists to improve the consistency and performance of routine tasks, you probably should be. 

 

To learn more about how checklists can help your MSP, drop by the IT Glue booth at Navigate 2018!

 

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Joshua is the Content Lead at IT Glue, and has written extensively about documentation. Joshua came to IT Glue following six years as a global nomad, and fifteen years building Ratebeer.com's content.

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