Checklists in Software Development

Verify your work with checklists

WHO has recently shown that surgical deaths can be reduced by a third when hospitals follow their Surgical Safety Checklist. The checklist is very low tech. It includes questions like whether the patient has been properly identified, whether the proper tools are available, and whether everyone knows what kind of procedure is about to be done.

If a checklist so simple can save so many lives, I thought the technique could surely help us do better as well. So after reading about this study and their checklist, I’ve been pushing us to create checklists for all the common procedures at 37signals.

We now have checklists in Backpack for confirming that a feature is complete, we have a checklist for preparing the feature for deployment and for executing the deployment, and finally for verifying that the feature is working as expected in the wild.

It’s the kind of stuff that we all know, but that we’ll often forget if we’re not being reminded about it in the moment. Thinking back to the mistakes we’ve made in the past, there are plenty of those that could have been avoided or caught much earlier if we had been using checklists.

This is a great reminder of two things: using checklists and adopting good ideas. Checklists are a simple and effective quality management tool. We use them for our software development (I have been a bit slow at getting them in place but we have been making progress recently). Also this shows how management improvement should work. You get good ideas from others and adapt them for use in your systems. Copying what others do, doesn’t work well. But understanding the concepts they use to improve performance and then adapting those concepts to your organization is the path to improved performance.

Related: Checklists Save LivesFind Joy and Success in BusinessLean, Toyota and Deming for Software DevelopmentThe Power of a ChecklistMost Meetings are Muda

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