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Checklists Save Lives and Money

Every time you visited an accountants’ office, were you daunted by their comprehensive checklist with over 50 Items on it? A few would have wondered why we need such a meticulous checklist.

Our world is increasingly complex. Our best professionals are struggling to master complex tasks. More sophisticated technologies emerge each day, thanks to our innovators! More changes to taxation, super & business laws emerge, thanks to our politicians! How do we keep on top of these never-ending changes? Intensive training and professional development help, yet we are not immune to grievous errors. An acclaimed Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, Atul Gawande has an answer:  the Humble Checklist!

He makes a distinction between mistakes that we make due to ignorance and errors from our ineptitude (that we fail to apply our knowledge). Most harm is done from ineptitude as he provides many examples from his field of surgery. It is too easy for a Doctor to miss a step, forget to ask a question or fail to plan for multiple jeopardies. He then visits pilots & construction sites and finds a remarkable solution. Everyone, regardless of what we do, needs checklists; these key steps help us walk through complex tasks.
Gawande argues in ‘ Checklist Manifesto’ that humble ‘to do lists’ make even complex tasks simpler. A 5 point checklist he implemented eradicated infections in John Hopkins Hospital ICUs preventing 8 deaths. When it was tested in Michigan ICUs, it saves 1500 lives in 2 years. Humans are resistant to change; checklists are no exception. When Gawande surveyed 8 hospitals, where checklists reduced surgical deaths to half, 20% doctors said checklists were hard to use. Yet, when asked if they would use it during surgery, 93 said yes!

Checklists that enabled pilots to fly sophisticated aircraft were first introduced by U.S. Air Force many decades ago. Now, innovative checklists are adopted in hospitals around the world, helping doctors and nurses respond to everything from flu epidemics to brain surgery.

Checklists create well-functioning teams that foster creativity. In the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans, teams with checklists were most effective. They were authorised to walk through checklists & help residents without calling head office each time. This contrasts with the top down, command-and-control approach that stifles initiative in many businesses.

Dr Gawande makes a telling point that “this whole thing starts with the recognition that we all fail.” That recognition is as hard for lawyers, accountants, engineers or business people as for Doctors. If patients are reassured that checklists lead to flawless treatment, so would customers of other businesses.

At the beginning of this article we discussed checklists for tax returns. As we know, our tax system is based on voluntary disclosure. When we forget to declare an income, we run the risk of being penalised by ATO. When we overlook to claim an expense, we needlessly pay a higher tax. The checklist helps us count in or out all items of incomes & expenditures; of course our checklist is based on the best practice of skilful accountants over many years.

No matter what business or domestic task we undertake, a checklist will eliminate errors, enhance the efficacy of the task and de-risk some important items being overlooked.

By Maya Jayarajan from Success Tax Professionals South Perth.