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How To Improve Utilities Checklists in 5 Steps

Posted by Brett Long

male construction worker completing a mobile form on a tablet

Utilities face high operating costs, regulatory pressure and security concerns. Amidst all these priorities, productivity improvement may be neglected. If this weakness continues, it is only a matter of time before utilities start to fail. To address that challenge, we recommend an unconventional approach: utilities checklists.

How the Curse of Knowledge Relates to Utilities Checklists

Experts and experienced employees suffer from a problem that makes it difficult to improve. Known as the curse of knowledge, this problem means that people tend to operate on “auto pilot” during routine tasks.

That’s a problem for two reasons. First, your staff may not stop to question the process and see if each step adds value. Second, such expert knowledge does not translate well into training new staff. To mitigate that risk, follow the steps laid out in this article.

The Productivity Improvement Process

Using the steps below, you will find out how to improve each and every checklist of importance at your organization. Schedule time on your calendar — an hour per step is plenty to get started — so that this process does not fall by the wayside. Note that a few of the steps require you to involve other people.

1. Identify Productivity Needs Through Gap Analysis

Of all the improvements you could make this year, which improvements are worth the effort to pursue? To answer that question, you will need to compare your department’s goals with your current approach.

For example, you may have a goal to achieve a perfect worker safety record annually. However, your safety officer informs you that there were five “close calls” recently. In that scenario, it is clear that your safety processes are not productive. You are not getting the results you need.

Next, look for ways to improve your checklists. Aim to support all of your mission critical processes with a checklist so that you move closer to your goal of a perfect safety record.

Tip: Productivity is more than cutting costs. It is really about finding more efficient ways to achieve your goals.

2. Eliminate Steps and Processes From Your Utilities Checklists

Productivity advice often starts with the premise: do more. In fact, you may miss the benefits of doing less. Take the checklists used by commercial pilots mentioned in “The Checklist Manifesto.” You might imagine that a commercial pilot would be given highly technical, detailed checklists.

Nothing could be further from the truth — pilots need small, easy to use checklists they can reference in a crisis. Typically, such documents are one page in length with less than ten steps.

With this principle in mind, look for opportunities to cut steps and entire processes to improve productivity. If a process is more than a year old, it is a prime candidate for elimination. Do not move onto the next step until you find a step or process to cut.

3. Gather Employee Feedback With a Productivity Focus

According to business author Dan Pink, autonomy and mastery are two of the driving motivations for most people at work. Improving checklists is a way to put mastery into concrete form. In addition, asking for productivity suggestions is a way to spark autonomy.

Perhaps your employees have a long-despised aspect to their work that adds little value. Using this checklist improvement project to act on such suggestions is a good way to gain productivity and increase motivation at the same time.

Once you have the employee feedback collected, evaluate it. Are you seeing certain suggestions occur several times? If so, you have a winner. On other hand, overly complicated suggestions are likely best ignored at this stage.

4. Digitize Your Checklists to Avoid Lost Paper

We can only improve traditional utilities checklists so much. You might have the best checklist in the world and still suffer productivity losses from managing paper. Instead of chasing lost or misfiled paper forms, we recommend digitizing your checklists.

5. Train Your Staff on the New Process and Expectations

Congratulations, you have upgraded your utilities checklists for the digital age. In the process, you have eliminated unnecessary parts of your processes and worked with your employees. Don’t stop yet! Promoting the new process to your employees is the critical final step to achieving productivity gains.

In the short term, organize a staff meeting where you present the new checklists and explain how to use them. In the long term, ask the human resources department to include the new checklists in their new employee program.

Improving checklists is just one way mobile forms can help. See what else is possible.

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