Checklists Save Money as Well as Lives

Last Updated Sep 13, 2010 2:06 PM EDT

I find checklists one of the most valuable tools for managing time and processes. In The Power of the Humble Checklist we discussed how any process that involves repetition can be improved with a task sheet. And in Make Better Decisions: Use a Surgeon's Checklist, we discovered what types of checklists work best with particular tasks.

Are checklists really worth the effort? Yes, and new research shows just how valuable they can be.

A previous study from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston demonstrated that checklists save lives -- major complications during or after surgery fell 30 percent for surgical teams that used them. Now a follow-up study by Brigham and Women's finds that costs also fall. If the former benefit doesn't apply in your office, the latter surely does.

"When compared to the cost of current practice, the implementation and use of the checklist could save $103,829 annually for a hospital that performed 4,000 non-cardiac operations per year or about $25.96 saved per operation. If at least five major complications are prevented within the first year of using the checklist, then a hospital will recoup its investment within that same year," said Marcus Semel, MD, a surgeon at BWH and lead author of the paper.
It's not difficulty to figure out how money can be saved by having employees use checklists for everything from changing a customer's oil (Oops, forgot to plug the oil pan!) to replacing a conveyor belt on the factory floor (Oops, should have made sure the parts were in stock before scheduling the install crew), from landing on the moon (See image at right), to mothballing a dated product (I did notify marketing beforehand, right?).

Can you give us some examples of how checklists let you do your job more effectively and save money?

(Photo of lunar landing checklist by Flickr user jurveston, cc 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.