Guidelines, Best Practices and Checklists – the Process Model for Unstructured Processes?

When we talk about managing unstructured, ad-hoc process (or using the adaptive case management terminology – knowledge process), one thing we always discuss is the notion of a best practice – which is a framework which describes a general outline of the work to be done (what needs to be done, not how to do it). In many cases we have seen these best practices boil down to a checklist (or a series of checklists).

Turns out that the lowly checklist is a very valuable tool for managing complex, unstructured ad-hoc processes in many domains. I was reading an excellent article on the benefits of checklists in unstructured processes from an old article in “The New Yorker” by Atul Gawande, that was referred by Jon Udell’s blog post on “Atul Gawande on why heroes use checklists“.

Now of course checklists are a far cry from a full fledged process model. They don’t go into details, don’t proscribe how things should be done and generally just describe a small part of whole process – but provide crticial checkpoints to ensure that bst practices are adhered to. They are much more human friendly than process models – both to the humans creating the checklists and to the humans executing the process. Of course from an IT perspective – they are a lot less sexy…
So why are checklists so valuable for human processes? Atul explains that checklists provided two main benefits in managing complex, ad-hoc human processes. First, they helped with memory recall, especially with mundane matters that are easily overlooked in patients undergoing more drastic events. A second effect was to make explicit the minimum, expected steps in complex processes.
So are guidelines, best practices and checklists the unstructured process equivalent of a process model?

5 Responses to “Guidelines, Best Practices and Checklists – the Process Model for Unstructured Processes?”

  1. Column 2 : links for 2010-03-08 Says:

    […] Guidelines, Best Practices and Checklists – the Process Model for Unstructured Processes? | Ac… Jacob Ukelson of ActionBase on the use of checklists in unstructured processes. Call it what you will (e.g., case management), unstructured processes need checklists in order to prompt the human involved to execute the necessary steps, as well as to show required versus optional steps. (tags: bpm casemanagement) Posted by Sandy Kemsley on Monday, March 8, 2010, at 2:01 pm. Filed under Links. Follow any responses to this post with its comments RSS feed. You can post a comment or trackback from your blog. […]

  2. Is the Checklist mightier than the Model? « Thoughts on Collaborative Planning Says:

    […] Leave a Comment Jacob Ukelson bring up some really interesting points in his new post on “Guidelines, Best Practices and Checklists – the Process Model for Unstructured Processes?“.  He starts by referencing an old article in The New Yorker by Atul Gawande on some […]

  3. Keith Says:

    I think you really are onto something here. Just last night I was writing this up the chapter on process modeling, and conferring with Dana Khoyi and others that a LIST is probably the most reasonable way to design a process.

    I did a short write up:

  4. JohnD Says:

    I’m a huge fan of checklists.

    They can be made even more useful by including links on them that share where to find any detailed instructions, manuals, templates or boilerplate documents relevant to completing that action.

    Similar links can also be added to capture copies of any outputs from the action.

    If you’re diligent about creating these links, the checklist becomes an excellent repository and tracking tool for what actually happened on each process iteration, without requiring any additional (ie redundant) audit documentation.

  5. Amit Kothari Says:

    We are currently building a highly usable and well-integrated app around this concept for real, practical settings. We’ve been grant-funded by the Government of Chile, and aim to launch in 2014. See

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: