Let me ask you a hypothetical question. You’re boarding an airplane and as you enter the aircraft, you glance into the cockpit. You see the pilot and co-pilot doing one of two things:

  • They’re sitting with their feet up, laughing and joking.
  • They’re running through a series of checklists, ticking off items as they check the dials and dashboard readings.

Which scenario makes you feel the most comfortable?

I’m going to guess it’s the pilots who are using checklists. But why? We know that in both scenarios, the pilots are trained and competent. They know how to fly the plane.

But we also intuitively understand that no matter how trained and skilled they are, the pilots are also human, and human beings can and do forget things.

Why checklists work

In his famous book The Checklist Manifesto, author Atul Gawande talks about the power of checklists. Gawande is an American surgeon and public health researcher. In his book, he reveals how the mortality rate in surgery is drastically lowered when surgeons and their teams use checklists.

Why? These are surgeons. They’re highly trained and skilled.

Yet surgeons are human too. They get distracted. They forget things.

Checklists enable professionals to methodically do repetitive tasks without missing any important steps.

If you’re distracted when working through a checklist, no problem. You can return to where you left off.

If you’re feeling under the weather when working through a checklist, perhaps a bit fuzzy-headed, no problem. A checklist reminds you what needs to be done.

Notice I’m not talking about teaching what needs to be done. The difference between checklists and training manuals is that checklists assume the reader is competent and trained, and it merely reminds them to do what needs to be done.

Checklists are powerful. Yet not enough IT solution providers and managed service providers (MSPs) use them.

Checklists for MSP service delivery

I can recall my own MSP business delivering a large migration project, moving clients from one Windows domain to another. We excelled at this (if I do say so myself), minimizing downtime and migrating all the client data across without issue.

But on the Monday morning that users returned to the office to the new infrastructure, there were howls of protest. The issue? We’d forgotten to migrate the users’ desktop wallpapers.

On no level is this important to the success of the project, but it was a tiny step that made the difference between the client employees viewing the project as a success or failure.

The next time we ran a migration, we used checklists to remind ourselves of all the steps we needed to take. The list included a step for transferring desktop wallpapers.

As an MSP yourself, you can use checklists for all manner of things:

  • PC installs: Use checklists to make sure your client gets all their line of business apps, plus any other client-specific software.
  • New users: Use checklists to remind your service desk of the user naming structure, to ensure they have home directories correctly set, and that the user is notified of their new password.
  • Disposals: Use checklists to ensure any retired or returned equipment from a client has its data securely wiped, is properly labelled, and is ethically disposed of.

Checklists are powerful. They’re part of building a business. And they’re intellectual property that’s valuable to your business.

Learning more about checklists

Australian-based MSP expert Nigel Moore spoke on the Frankly MSP podcast on the power of checklists.

I’d also encourage you to check out the Auvik webinar with Nigel where he gives practical examples of checklists for MSPs.

You can use MSP specific tools like IT Glue to build checklists.

While we’re not an MSP, my own team uses a tool called Manifest.ly, a checklist app for teams that makes checklists easy to create and use.

Start small. The next time you do any task you think you may need to repeat in the future, slow down and document the steps you take to complete that task. There’s your first checklist.

However highly trained your staff are, they’re still fallible human beings. Checklists remind you and your staff of the right steps to take, on time, every time. Checklists create professional results and consistency—something every MSP should be striving for.