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Submitted by williamelledgepe on


How do you prevent over reliance on checklists? Or is there a such thing?

I am currently rolling out some checklists for various items related to project management and project design. I plan to have more checklists in the future. One criticism I received and don't know how to address is the following: Sometimes people follow the checklist and only the checklist, without an evaluation of other things that may need to be done given the nuances of a particular instance.

An over-simplified example is a packing list that someone checks off saying they are ready to go - not accounting for the fact they are flying to France and also need to bring a French-English dictionary.

I don't want to be in a situation where a project manager says, "I did everything on the checklist so I did my job and there is nothing else to do." How do I ensure people use the checklist and still pay attention to the context/appropriateness of the checklist?

drenn18's picture
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Good question, William, I have been in your shoes. Great use of B.L.U.F. btw.

My quick answer is yes, over-reliance is possible, and may be riskier for project management than project design. This is because checklists, by nature, tend to reduce conversation between managers and directs. While I don't know what your work is, I'd say reduction in conversation is more harmful to project management outcomes than to project design. The gravity of your work may matter--is surgery, where lives are on the line, or is it a school, meant for teachers to prepare for class?

If I understand your situation, you are the creator but not the user of these checklists? If so, were the users inovlved in the design? Do they understand that adjustments can be made along the way and that you encourage their input? Was the purpose of each checklist clearly communicated, as recommended in Mark's "Leader's Intent" guidance?

I come from restaurant management, where checklists are used for, quite literally, everything. In our field, overall, the users of the checklists are less autonomous by virtue of the industry--they're hourly employees and, in a corporate office's view, most of them "need" the clear direction that a checklist provides, especially to be efficient (not necessarily "effective").

Best luck,




techmgr's picture
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I agree with David. Get direct input from the people using the checklists. Also, one can never be sure the checklist is understood exactly as intended without walking through it with them. Some training is necessary.

Do you have the context built into the checklist document? For example, a pre-requirements section can include communication or something situational, that requires some confirmation that the checklist is appropriate before preceding. Explicitly state the purpose or objective of the checklist. That adds context and engages the user. Add catch-alls to the checklist such as "confirm that there's no further action needed" or "review the outcome for additional tasks" - steps that requires people to pause and consider. You can heavily comment the checklist to explain the reasons behind each step, context etc. A flow chart rather than a numbered list also helps with decisons. Each flow can end with suggestions for additional steps to take depending on what route was taken to get to the end. Define the desired end state. What does "done" look like? Add final steps to confirm that the purpose or objective of the checklist was met.

I recommend reading the Checklist Manifesto. Checklists are not simple things. I have had to write dozens, so these recommendations come from trial and error. Hope this helps.

Kevin1's picture

Set expectations up front.

  • The checklist is a guide that will cover 90% of what's needed, 90% of the time.
  • It is their responsibility as project leaders to not only cover what is in the checklist but anything else needed by their particular project.
  • After they complete their assigned task, there will be a review stage in which all of their responsibility will be reviewed and evaluated.

Does that help?

Kind regards



williamelledgepe's picture
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Great Advice - Thanks