Checklists

By Melvyn Pullen

Have a look at the last document you wrote or read on a computer. If it’s a reasonable size it probably has a TOC (table of contents), and this TOC is likely active, allowing you to jump to the section when you click the entry in the TOC.

We’ll come back to that document.

A little while ago I needed to organise a wedding ceremony. It opened my eyes to the fact that most complex activities have a checklist to enable people to quickly learn and follow that activity.

 

Why use a checklist?

A ceremony is something that you do on a regular basis. A lot of processes in businesses can be boiled down to one or more ceremonies. The Scrum project control framework only has four ceremonies:

  • Sprint planning
  • Daily standup
  • Sprint demonstration
  • Sprint retrospective

The three ‘actors’ in Scrum – the team, the product owner and the ScrumMaster – have several activities and some or all of them can also be boiled down to simple ceremonies.

Ceremonies, when repeated regularly, can be remembered easily. That’s the power of repetition.

Each of these ceremonies can and do have a checklist. There’s a few reasons:

  • A checklist isn’t daunting when you must learn the ceremony.
  • A checklist reminds you when you carry out the ceremony; it acts as a memory jogger.
  • A checklist is easy to update when practices change.
  • A checklist can act as a conversation piece about the ceremony.
  • You know the ceremony is too complicated if the checklist becomes too long.

 

How to create a checklist

The way to move from a traditional process to an Agile practice is to create a checklist. It helps if you’ve already tried to create a process description. In this case you will have a document.

If you have a description of the process, ensure that it describes most of the steps as far as you know them. Try to create that ceremony. Make the description of each step a paragraph or two.

Next, give the description of each step in your ceremony a heading or a sub-heading in the document at the same level. This is important for the next step.

Finally, create a TOC for the document and ensure it includes all the sub-headings.

The TOC is your checklist.

 

 

 

Using your checklist

Describe the checklist to someone who will use it.

In the early stages you will use the descriptive content to explain the steps in the ceremony. Any changes are made to the content and you recreate the checklist.

You can eventually throw away the description and keep just the checklist. The oral tradition will take over and the checklist will be easy to update when people realise best practice has changed.