[conspire] Suitable for metaphorical adoption elsewhere

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Fri Oct 19 21:19:44 PDT 2012

Doing anything halfway complex with computers or automated systems --
and that's most thing with computers -- is greatly helped if you follow
checklists.  Since at least the age of 10, I've been a big user and
advocate of same (long before I worked in IT).  I used to have a saying
that 'A checklist will save your life.'  Even though I've been obliged
to amend that to 'A well-debugged checklist will save your life', the
sentiment still applies.  Here's an excerpt from a fascinating 18-page
paper by a NASA Ames Research Center guy and one of his colleagues in
Florida, about a specific situation where checklists really matter.
(Dr. Degani works modeling human factors in analysis and design of
human-automation interaction and information systems.)

Just a tiny amount of imagination seems sufficient to adapt these
suggestions to other scenarios lacking literal flight cockpits.

Cockpit Checklists: 
Concepts, Design, and Use
[excerpt; conclusions section]

Asaf Degani
San Jose State University Foundation
San Jose, CA

Earl L. Wiener
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL

Guidelines for Checklist Design and Usage

Based on this study, we propose a list of guidelines for designing and
using flight-deck checklists.  These considerations are not
specifications, and some, when applied individually, may conflict with
others.  Therefore, each should be carefully evaluated for its relevance
to operational constraints.  We feel, however, that these guidelines can
also apply, with some adjustments, to other industries.

1.  Checklist responses should portray the desired status or the value
of the item being considered, not just 'checked' or 'set'.

2.  The use of hands and fingers to touch, or point to, appropriate
controls, switches, and displays while conducting the checklist is

3.  A long checklist should be subdivided to smaller checklists or
chunks that can be associated with systems and functions within the

4. Sequencing of checklist items should follow the 'geographical'
organization of the items in the cockpit, and be performed in a logical

5. Checklist items should be sequenced in parallel with internal and
external activities that require input from out-of-cockpit agents such
as cabin crew, ground crew, fuelers, and gate agents.  We note here that
this guideline could conflict with No. 4.

6.  The most critical items on the task-checklist should be listed as
close as possible to the beginning of the task-checklist, in order to
increase the likelihood of completing the item before interruptions may
occur.  We note that this guideline could conflict with Nos. 4 and 5
above.  In most cases where this occurs, this guideline (No. 6) should
take precedence.

7.  Critical checklist items such as flaps/slats, trim setting, etc.,
that might need to be reset due to new information (arriving after their
initial positioning) should be duplicated on the ground phase

8  The completion call of a task-checklist should be written as the last
item on the checklist, allowing all crew members to move mentally from
the checklist to other activities with the assurance that the
task-checklist has been completed.

9.  Critical checklists, such as the TAXI checklist, should be completed
early in the ground phase, in order to decouple them from the takeoff

10.  Checklists should be designed in such a way that their execution
will not be tightly coupled with other tasks.  Every effort should be
made to provide buffers for recovery from failure and a way to 'take up
the slack' if checklist completion does not keep pace with the external
and internal activities.

11.  Flight crews should be made aware that the checklist procedure is
highly susceptible to production pressures.  These pressures set the
stage for errors by possibly encouraging substandard performance, and
may lead some to relegate checklist procedures to a second level of
importance, or not use them at all.

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