Can Agilists use Check Lists? Can checklists help them perform at a much better level? To answer this question, we will have to visit the two bookends of User Stories. Please grab copies of your team’s Definition of Ready (DoR) and Definition of Done (DoD).
Two books of end User Stories: DoR, DoD
A user story should not be allowed to go onto a sprint backlog unless it meets all the items listed on DoR; in order for it to be marked as READY. On the other end, teams are supposed to mark a user story as DONE only when it meets all the criteria a laid out in the DoD. Aren’t these checklists? Can we expand them to other areas of doing Agile?
Why use the Checklists?
If NASA can use checklists to send satellites into the outer space. If surgeons can use the checklist to eliminate contamination in the surgery room, why can’t we, the Agilists, use the checklists to eliminate the worst, minimize the waste, and improve our productivity? As Atul Gawande describes in his book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, the knowledge exists, but often times we fail to apply it correctly.
We need a different strategy for overcoming failure, one that builds on experience and takes advantage of the knowledge people have but somehow also makes up for our inevitable human inadequacies.
– Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
Listed below are some additional benefits of using Checklists.
- Helps you analyze what you are doing, why you are doing and then eliminate unnecessary steps and optimize it by combining some of them.
- Makes work results more predictable.
- Helps you in making Repeatable, predictable process.
- Helps in delivering consistent quality and results.
Outline path to Success
Checklists, in essence, can help you improve your performance. They outline the path to success, with minimal resistance, because they are infused with your experiences and learnings from the past.
As Edward Deming once said, “don’t look at the individual, look at the system.” You can start with a simple checklist, and infuse them with your experiences and learnings. Refine them as you use them by incorporating the lessons learned with each use.
make it-use it-refine it-agile checklists
You can create a checklist on pretty much anything! If I know that I’m going to be doing a specific activity more than once, I would create a checklist.
I follow a simple process to create them. Start with an outline of what tasks you would have to carry out to complete the activity. You don’t have to put in a lot of time and effort and come up with an elaborate checklist. Once you have the initial outline, just do ‘the thing’! And, as you do it, refine the list.
Yes, the initial list may not be complete. Yes, it may not be elaborate. But you have a checklist that you can improve on and make it better as you do it again and again. To ensure the ‘continuous improvement’, one of that last item that I almost always have is:
Is there any way I can improve this checklist?
Automate or Delegate
In his highly successful book The Four Hour Week, Tim Ferris suggests four simple steps to freedom: Eliminate-Simplify-Automate-Delegate.
One of the side benefits of having checklists is that it helps you delegating the activity or individual tasks. It also helps you eliminate the unnecessary steps as you use them and optimize them. Once you have used a checklist to complete the activity couple of times, one of the three things could happen.
Find a way to automate the activity.
If you cannot automate this process then find a way to delegate it to somebody who can follow your checklist.
- Do It yourself:
If you cannot delegate it and you are ‘forced’ to do it, you should be able to finish it quickly and efficiently as you have optimized your checklist. This should allow you to finish the activity quickly, with a higher quality, minimizing, if not completely eliminating, the waste.
Enabling and Empowering
Checklists are enabling and empowering! They are ‘concentrated doses’ of experiences and learnings, acquired over multiple iterations. They help you in improving your Sprint Planning, the Backlog Refinement, Sprint Review, and many other events and activities.
Create one, use it, and you will realize how liberating they are! Let us know your experience in the comment below. And, don’t forget to share it with your peers and community.
Why reinvent the wheel? Get this booklet (containing various checklists) and get a jump start!
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