Checklist Manifesto for Information Professionals?

Checklist Manifesto for Information Professionals?

For months I’ve been mulling the similarities of the information profession to other professions.  Having worked in HR and IT, I know how much we can learn from other professions, situations and perspectives.  The 3 professions I keep sort of “circling to view” are HR, IT (no surprise) and medicine. HR and IT  are, like the information profession, usually support and service functions that regularly grapple with the language they use (not always understood by clients or decision-makers) and with their position or value perception in their academic, school, public, corporate or government environment.  Compare the programs for an IT or HR-related conference and you’ll be amazed at the similarities to a library, RM or KM conference.

So why do I also look at medicine? A while ago I blogged about a fabulous article by  “The Inward Journey of Leadership,” in the Journal of Surgical Research, April 2006 by Dr. Wiley Souba. I’m now following his regular writings on leadership in medicine because, as it turns out – ah ha! – many in the medical profession, just like many in the information profession, prefer to do “the work” rather than the managing or leading.  And, if we read and explore the insights of other professions, like medicine, our viewpoints widen and deepen.

Atul Gawande, teaches at Harvard Medical School and writes for The New Yorker. He’s recently published “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.” He looked at other professions, like pilots, who use checklists constantly in their roles to ensure things don’t get missed.  As he says, medicine is increasingly complex, work schedules are stressful and overly full, and the profession is made up of….wait for it….people! People are just human and we all forget things, miss things, make mistakes.  When the medical profession misses a detail, lives are at risk.  Dr. Gawande found that many in his profession weren’t in favour of making or following a checklist, especially in surgery.  Yet, when he asked his colleagues, “if you were having surgery would you want the people in charge to be following a checklist?” they pretty well agreed.  He refers to it as an “aide” to navigate complex procedures, and, after overcoming his own hesitancy of using it has found he hasn’t gotten through one week of surgery without catching 1-2 problems.

Now….here’s the question….how could aides or checklists improve our professional pursuits? We prepare enough guides, checklists and navigation aides for students, patrons and clients. What about for our own approaches? I have a few checklists I’ve used for more than 15 years that hang in my office to remind me of steps in designing projects, process mapping, etc….and it never ceases to surprise me that in things I’ve done over & over again I do forget certain steps or “sub-steps”.

We take pride in the fact that our services have a positive impact on people’s lives, and our work is, just like medicine, becoming increasingly complex, busy and slightly scattered.  So, in our multi-tasking environments, shouldn’t we consider aides that guide us – as individuals and teams – through complex procedures? What’s your checklist manifesto going to be?

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