Monday, February 18, 2008

Randomize Checklist Items for Better Compliance?

I WAS DELETING OLD EMAIL yesterday, when I found an idea I'd conceived at my last job. See if this makes any sense.

Before we sent finished newsletter PDFs to the printer, I and my fellow page monkeys would circulate a printout of the job with an approval sheet. The sheet had three checklists, each containing slightly different items (but always in the same order), so the newsletter editor, design manager, and the designer could review and sign off on the job . . . about nine questions for each person.

I noticed that the editors tended just to breeze through the questions. One barely every looked at the job itself; she just checked off the items and signed the bottom. I felt compelled to review those items for real myself on those few occasions I had to get her approval for jobs. But it got me to thinking:

Repeat users of any sort of checklist eventually memorize the order of the items, if not the letter. This can foster complacency, especially with rush or multiple jobs to review. Why not have as many forms as there are checklist items, each with a different item sequence?

This would force folks to read the list more closely. Also, by breaking up the usual sequence of examination for a publication, they might catch errors that a lockstep front-to-back review — the quality of which already may be under siege by stress, distractions, or ennui — would neglect. Instead of starting with the volume and issue numbers on the cover, then the cover table of contents, then the company logo, and so forth, force folks into the middle of the book, then the back, and from there to wherever, so the rhythm of following the normal sequence has no chance to charm someone into false security.

I suspect there's a minimum amount of questions for which any sort of randomization would work. With only three items, there's no point in scrambling them. Even with eight or nine, sharper or idler minds would eventually notice the patterns and perhaps unconsciously anticipate the next item. But folks like the person I mentioned above who sign without reading might be jarred into paying attention, or at least be held more accountable for neglect-born errors.

Never had the chance to try it at the last place, and we don't have such a final-signoff checklist at the current shop. I'll file it away for the next place if they need such a boost to the system.

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