Managing by Checklist: NASA Does It and So Can You!

By Jennifer Hoffman

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If you know about space shuttle launches, you know the importance of the checklist.

In what seems like a lifetime ago (1999 to be exact), a friend of mine was vacationing in Florida and witnessed a space shuttle launch. It was one of the most incredible experiences of her life, especially after the launch was scrapped twice—once for a hydrogen level issue and the other for weather. This particular launch was scheduled at night, which was stunning to view. But what stood out to her—and which she later shared when learning about Zenput—was the massive pre-flight checklist. As detailed by Wired, there are several components of the checklist with sub-components. Part 8 is its own step to confirm that the checklist has been completed. Seriously, can you imagine having the responsibility of checking off the fuel tanks of a space shuttle?

Now consider this: If a checklist is good enough for NASA, why can’t it be good enough for your retail operation? The best and the brightest minds, arguably in the U.S. and maybe even the world, use a checklist to get the job done. Checklists keep the mission on track. Checklists account for deficiencies. Checklists are smart!

However…

Not All Checklists are Created Equal

When NASA uncovers a problem during its pre-flight checklist, what follows is a predetermined sequence of events. The outcome is determined by the type of issue and its severity. The team knows how to respond accordingly. So must it be for the checklists you use in your restaurant or retail operation. Don’t send the results into outer space—follow up to keep your team accountable!

Go paperless with a process. Gone are the days of pencil and paper. The world moves at a digital pace, and no one has time to transcribe written survey responses. That time is better spent addressing the inefficiencies you and your team have uncovered.

All Systems Go

Check everything, but don’t make it overwhelming for any one manager. NASA scientists have specialties. Consider making your managers specialized. For instance, if you were to conduct a weekly retail audit of specific locations with a checklist, you could assign specific tasks to managers in the field. Have one manager check property, another check retail promotions, and a third check kitchen sanitation. Next month, switch responsibilities among managers to gain fresh perspectives and to compare previous results. This could also help with employee engagement. Managers will gain a more well-rounded view of your operation, and it will hopefully keep them engaged in the team’s efforts to identify and resolve problems.

The most effective checklists go beyond simple yes, no, or maybe answers. Take on the role of a survey, they garner actionable insights. You can optimize the fields of your checklist by using a sliding rating scale or requiring a photo. Senior management can also be alerted to exceptions, all on the same platform. For instance: “Rate the cleanliness of the floor from 1 (very poor) to 10 (very clean).” Anything falling under a 5 could alert senior management that there’s a cleanliness issue at that particular store. The visiting manager could use their smartphone to take a photo of what they see. Resolving this problem could drastically improve sales.

Blast Off!

Above all, let your imagination soar when brainstorming how to develop your checklist. A nimble platform like Zenput allows your management team to edit surveys and respond in real time from their preferred device. Zenput also provides a way to measure industry best practices and develop your own over time, all while improving operations and building your team’s confidence to respond to real-time challenges.  

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