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How a Process Checklist Can Make Work More Efficient (And Better Overall)

A process checklist is crazy important no matter the process.

You know when you go on a trip with friends and you decide to divide up the things to bring? You’re in charge of bringing beverages, another person bringing games, and someone else bringing snacks. Like that.

You and your friends tell that person which snacks you would like. When you’re all together on the trip, you break into the snacks only to see that the one you requested is nowhere to be found.

You ask your friend if they brought your snack, but they say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t make a checklist and I forgot it.”

You’re devastated. You wanted that snack.

And all because your friend didn’t make a checklist. 

Now, that example is a little dramatic (and totally not based on real-life experiences). Nevertheless, checklists are important. 

Forgetting snacks is one thing, but that sort of disorganization can cause a lot more disruption in the workplace. Business processes need checklists to function properly.

In this post, we’ll dive into how to make the best possible process checklists to keep workflows running smoothly. We’ll cover what a process checklist is, the different types, the benefits, how to make one, and more.

What is a process checklist?

A process checklist is a tool used to ensure that all necessary steps are completed in a particular process or task. It serves as a guide to ensure that nothing is missed or forgotten, helping to eliminate human error and increase efficiency.

It can be as simple as a list of tasks written on a piece of paper, or it can be a more comprehensive checklist template created using checklist software. The checklist should outline all the steps involved in the process, from start to finish, and provide detailed instructions for each step.

Using a process checklist can be especially beneficial for complex processes or tasks that require multiple people or departments to work together. It helps to create a logical flow and ensures that everyone is on the same page.

The checklist can be created by subject matter experts who are familiar with the process, as they will have a good understanding of the crucial and key steps. It is important to involve all relevant parties in the creation of the checklist to ensure that nothing is overlooked.

The checklist should be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect any changes in the process or to address any common pitfalls that may arise.

It’s also important to have a clear system for tracking the status of checklists, such as using checklist software that allows for checklist notifications and provides details on incomplete checklists.

How do you create a process checklist?

Thankfully, it’s pretty simple. Just follow these five steps:

Step 1: Select the process

Start with the basics. You can’t exactly make a process checklist if you don’t which process you’re going to make it for, you know?

So start by making a list of all the processes you want a checklist for. But for this example, let’s say you’re making a process checklist for employee onboarding.

Step 2: Set up the checklist outline

Write out all the steps that go into the onboarding process. You don’t need to go into all the details of each task in the process. You’re just creating a skeleton, a template. It should look something like:

  • Collect basic information
  • Conduct background check
  • Prepare contract
  • Send contract
  • Welcome new employee

You get the idea. Just get all the steps written out and double-check to ensure you didn’t miss anything.

Step 3: Fill in the checklist

Now you can add details to each of the steps. Put in whatever explanations each step needs, additional reminders, anything.

This could include something like reminding the checklist user which tax forms the new hire needs to fill out. Adding details like this helps give context to the tasks in the process checklist and ensures everything is done thoroughly.

Step 4: Add special features

This is the fun part! Process checklist software comes with all types of special features to customize your checklists.

These are often things such as:

  • Automation
  • Conditional logic
  • Email widgets
  • Images and video

And lots of others. Make your checklist fancy! You deserve it.

Step 5: Test it out

Finally, make sure you test it out before you implement it. Give it to a couple of people to work through first. They can let you know if everything works, if anything is confusing, if you’ve forgotten to add something, or if anything is unclear.

I can attest first-hand that getting feedback from colleagues on process checklists is invaluable.

Once it’s been tested a few times, you can start using it!

Types of process checklists

Depending on the nature of the task or process, there are different types of checklists that can be utilized.

Simple checklist

This is the most basic type of checklist, consisting of a list of tasks that need to be completed. It is often used for routine or repetitive tasks where the steps are well-known and straightforward. A simple checklist can be created on a piece of paper or digitally using checklist software.

Procedure checklists

These checklists are commonly used in industries such as healthcare and aviation, where adherence to standard procedures is critical. Procedure checklists provide a step-by-step guide to ensure that important safety protocols are followed and all necessary actions are taken.

Workflow checklist template

These checklists are designed to guide a specific process or workflow from start to finish. They outline the key steps and milestones that need to be completed, ensuring that the process flows smoothly and nothing is overlooked.

Master checklist

A master checklist is a comprehensive checklist that encompasses multiple processes or tasks within a larger project or operation. It provides an overview of all the steps and ensures that no important details are missed or forgotten.

Response checklist

These checklists are commonly used in emergency situations or crisis management. They outline specific actions and procedures that need to be followed in response to a particular event or situation, ensuring a prompt and well-coordinated response.

SOP checklists

SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedures, and these checklists are designed to ensure that a consistent standard of quality and performance is maintained. SOP checklists outline standard procedures, best practices, and quality control measures to be followed.

Benefits of using a process checklist

Using process checklists comes with several benefits. Keeping things organized is one of the bigger ones, but that’s not the only value they offer.

  • Makes processes more standardized and centralized (everything always works the same and essential information is kept all in one place)
  • Sets clear expectations for whoever uses them (they understand the desired outcome and how to get there)
  • Encourages collaboration (from interns to leadership, everyone can get on board with process checklists and multiple team members can use one at the same time)

Really, I can’t think of a single reason why you wouldn’t use a process checklist. Without them, a company would just be like the Wild West. No regulation, just chaos. Makes me shiver. 

Warning: Common pitfalls of using a process checklist

Not everyone realizes all they can do with a process checklist. Being in the checklist business ourselves, we see it all the time. 

Customers come to us after they’ve been relying on other methods for checklists, like Microsoft Word.

And, please, if you are currently using Word for your process checklists, I beg you to stop. Microsoft Word just can’t do what process checklist software can. 

With Word, you can’t store multiple files in one place in a way that stays organized. You can’t assign tasks to different team members to make the checklist more dynamic. Additionally, it’s impossible to set approvals, automate processes, or really add any useful features. 

Beyond Word, we often see people with process checklists that are way too simple. Ironically, simple checklists can actually overcomplicate processes. Let’s say a particular task needs to be approved by someone in leadership, and they are sent the task with the checklist via email. That’s all fine and good, but the email gets lost and leadership doesn’t see it. You are now responsible for sending reminders until the task is completed.

It’s not the end of the world, sure, but it adds unnecessary time to the process and disrupts the workflow. Wouldn’t it be easier to use software that automatically sends notifications straight to Slack? And wouldn’t it be even easier if the checklist had dynamic due dates that reminded people when they had tasks due soon?

I think so. But what do I know? I just work at a checklist company.

Best practices for using a process checklist

To make sure you get the most out of your process checklists, follow the best practices listed below.

Make each task actionable

Each task should start with a verb. Language matters and making each task clearly actionable makes it clear what needs to be accomplished.

One common pitfall with process checklists is that people don’t follow them correctly or misinterpret instructions. When that happens, it creates a headache for everyone and can waste time. 

At Process Street, we are very intentional about how we write out tasks when we create checklists. You could even call us sticklers because any task that isn’t clearly actionable can ruin a whole workflow. 

So be clear and use those verbs when writing your tasks.

Don’t get stuck with dusty paper forms

Now if you’ve been picturing a piece of paper every time I say “checklist,” I’m going to need you to stop it. Right now. You’re better than that. You have to think bigger!

Paper is the worst thing you can use to make process checklists. Sure, it’s satisfying to take a pen and cross things off a list, but save that for your personal daily to-do list. 

When it comes to business processes, you run the risk of misplacing papers, not being able to read someone’s handwriting, and really just making everything very disorganized. 

No paper. 

Use a process checklist software

What you can, and should, use is process checklist software. It’s the answer to all your problems. 

Process checklist software is the one-stop shop for managing processes. You will have the ability to:

  • Organize all of your checklists
  • Keep documents in one place
  • Assign tasks to specific people
  • Set dynamic due dates
  • Use conditional logic 
  • Automate specific tasks

Microsoft Word and paper can’t do all of that. Process Street can, though. Our checklists include all of the features above and more. Our software also gives you user-control access for security compliance and features analytics and reporting, so you can track processes over time to see how well they’re working. We even have tons of pre-made templates that are all at your disposal.

Process checklist automation

Lastly, you should be automating as much of your process checklists as possible. Automation makes working through process checklists faster and easier. Things you can automate include:

  • Data input
  • Sending emails
  • Notifying users of due dates
  • Sending contracts 
  • Data reporting

The only downside to automating process checklists is setting up the automation itself. If you’re not the most tech-savvy person (like myself), it may take some time. But that time spent is an investment because you will be saving yourself and everybody else time down the line. Don’t shy away from automation. It’s awesome!

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