Checklist 2.0 - Goodbye Paper, Hello Electronic Checklist

Q. What do airplane pilots and facility managers have in common?
A. They use checklists for safety and quality control

Both private and commercial pilots use pre-flight checklists to help ensure safety: their own and their passengers. Even the grizzled old pro that has been flying for 40 plus years uses checklists! Checklists provide structured rigor to the process. Checklists provide accumulated knowledge and boil it down to essentials.

Whether your facility is open to the public, or to employees only, there are risks: falls, smoke, fires, equipment malfunctions, and more. Starting in 2020, virus transmission reared its ugly head requiring actions for social distancing, special barriers, and a strong focus on ventilation systems.

Commercial kitchens can be dangerous to staff and those they serve if they are not rigorously inspected and maintained for appropriate storage and cooking temperatures, cleanliness, and fire prevention. While a kitchen mishap may not be as spectacular as a flight mishap, the well-being of workers, patrons and food service provider reputation can be quite serious, indeed.

Many industries face new rules and considerations for risk management (see my article "Stuff Happens: Prevent, Mitigate, and Respond With This 5-Step Facilities Risk Management Plan"). The hospitality industry especially, be it restaurant facility management, cafeterias, caterers, cafes, or hotel asset management, all must be concerned with safety, quality and reputation. Hotels and motels have numerous safety and quality issues to consider beyond food preparation. Retail stores have new guidelines for protecing customers and staff. The venerable paper checklist, used in manual PMS (preventive maintenance systems) evolved for a reason! A well thought out and constructed checklist can save lives, prevent injuries, defend reputations, reduce insurance costs and enhance real and perceived quality.

The distillation of knowledge and experience

Books have been written about knowledge management in business and organizational settings (see references at the end). The humble checklist is a form of knowledge management. Checklists evolve from thoughtful reflection and from prior failure to anticipate. It is a way of passing experiential knowledge from manager to staff.

In some facility management settings staff turnover is high. This makes checklists a critical tool for knowledge transfer. Best practices in quality management demand repeatable processes, and the checklist can help to convey these processes. Additionally, continuous process improvement demands that checklists be refined from lessons learned.

Problems with paper checklists

Let’s say you are the franchise operator of 15 locations. A mishap occurs at one of your stores. An after-action review is conducted with the conclusion that three more checklist items might prevent such a mishap from recurring. A manager at headquarters revises the store opening checklist and snail mails, faxes, or emails to all fifteen stores. How can the chain headquarters ensure that the fifteen locations remove all copies of the old checklist and replace it with the new one? How does he/she ensure compliance with the new procedure?

Suppose HQ has developed twenty-five checklists used for various jobs and processes at the fifteen individual stores. These checklists are revised periodically. There are now 375 opportunities for version control errors (15 stores * 25 checklists). Is this risk level tolerable? What if your company has 30 stores and 30 unique checklists? There are now 900 opportunities for version omissions. Is this risk level tolerable? As you can see, the risk of errors grow exponentially with organization size and frequency of change.

Checklist Version Control - Risk Mitigation

There are many ways to mitigate the risk of checklist and document version control issues. The table below shows the relative risk of common approaches.

Risk LevelApproachComments
Very HighDocuments pre-printed at HQ and physically distributed to each storeHow do you verify receipt and implementation of the new version?
Very HighDocument revisions faxed to each storeHow do you verify receipt and implementation of the new version?
HighDocuments emailed as attachments to each storeA request for reply / acknowledgement can help ensure compliance. How do you track non-response?
MediumDocuments on shared network driveEach store can go to the network share and pick up the latest. How do you track they have done so?
LowElectronic checklists in the cloud-based systemCompliance is auto-enforced because the checklist is always the latest version

Compliance and Accountability

Having the right checklist available to the right people at the right time addresses part of the problem. Ensuring those checklists are actually getting used speaks to compliance and accountability. Some typical approaches used:

Paper doc, handwritten checkboxes, date/time and initialsWhat happens to the doc after it is completed? Trash? File folder? Scanned? Transcribed into electronic record?
Dry erase paperReuse the same checklist. Initial when completed. Erase for next use. No waste. No accountability.
Electronic checklistBuilt in accountability for who did what, and when they did it. Enforces compliance with “Whodunit” audit trail for internal and external compliance audit.


It is clear from the approaches described for reducing version control risk, and for compliance, audit-ability and accountability, electronic checklists win hands down. When it comes to management control over geographically dispersed locations, electronic checklists provide immediacy, reduce paper waste, and enable more efficient quality processes. Innovative and enlightened facility and asset management teams at multi-location operations will benefit by adopting new electronic checklists as standard operating procedure.

About eSSETS:

eSSETS cloud-based software for facility and asset management provides tools for creating and maintaining electronic checklists (called Action Lists). The application also provides a library of checklists, or templates, to help new accounts get started. These can be copied and modified to fit the unique needs of a facility. Action Lists can be linked to Places (locations) and Things (equipment assets) and assigned to groups and individuals and scheduled to recur daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually.

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