I'm reading The Checklist Manifesto, whose basic premise is that complex problems can be ameliorated by the use of simple checklists. Its interesting, but not compelling (I'm halfway through) because I find myself wondering if he's cherrypicked his examples, and because I don't see how he would recommend incorporating such things in the realities of my life. Its one thing to say oh, this restaurant has multiple checklists to ensure product quality and customer satisfaction, this construction company has multiple checklists to ensure that steps occur in the right sequence and that people who should talk ARE talking; its another to say so how can this make keeping the house clean, the pantry stocked BETTER? Perhaps that comes in the second part.
But the thing I keep thinking about was my company's Quality program, and one guy's annoyance with meeting rooms.
The Q program -- I'm sure they are still going on under different names in different companies -- was an effort to bring rational thought into how we provided the software service to our customers. How did we track problems to keep them from coming back. How did we know that solutions worked, and that the problem didn't just go away on its own. We weren't very effective, as suggested by the fact that when the managers decided to put up a big sign to remind us of how important this was, the slogan they chose was QUALITY: FOR A BETTER TOMORROW. Which, oddly enough, never came. The data processing function was moved elsewhere, the data center was closed, and eventually the company was sold.
The specific memory about the connection between simple problems and simple solutions that I referred to earlier was the problem with meeting rooms. Our building had, perhaps, eight meeting rooms. Two of them were large, and one was grand, but all were functional. Some were more desirable than others. They had windows, perhaps, or more comfortable chairs. Whatever the reason, they were the ones that were wanted first. But frequently, when you would go and actually look, the booked room was empty. Well, we decided not to have the meeting. Well, the meeting only lasted ten minutes, but we had booked it for an hour just in case. Well... So this one fellow said Look,, this is a problem. We have a desired resource that everyone wants, but we only use it about a third of the time.
We had no idea of how to fix this. Signup sheets on the door? Too tedious. Have a secretary track who overbooked? She had other things to do -- and, anyway, within two years, she was gone and not replaced. Ask people to try harder? So we just shrugged and said Yeah, it happens, nothing to be done. And it wasn't.
Would a checklist have helped? Not without people willing to spend the time to really understand the problem, really understand what the effect was, really work to come up with solutions that were both effective and simple to do. But if we had them? Possibly.
Never know though, will we?