How checklists can help product teams become less tribal and more scalable

“Our great struggle in medicine these days is not just with ignorance and uncertainty,” Gawande says. “It’s also with complexity: how much you have to make sure you have in your head and think about. There are a thousand ways things can go wrong.”

Atul Gawande, quoted at

a World Health Organization surgical safety checklist initiative showed great success, cutting complications by 36% and mortality in half, according to a Jan. 29, 2009, NEJM study.


Making the new discipline of UX more predictable

As we look to make UX more predictable, we at Rackspace have been experimenting with using a ‘UX checklist’ on some project sprints. We’ve created a ‘UX checklist’ and adapted it to Google docs. Now the entire team can use the checklist as a way to collaborate on project planning, to make notes on execution, and to function as a reminder for important to-dos. This is not a replacement to JIRA, but rather a double-stop against making preventable mistakes.

From The Decision Book, there are 3 types of mistakes (p.86):

  • Real mistakes – when the wrong process is carried out
  • Slip ups – when part of a process is forgotten
  • Black outs – when the right process is carried out incorrectly

The checklist can prevent 2 out the 3 major mistake categories (real mistakes and slip ups).

The checklist prevents real mistakes by using the checklist as a planning document. You’ll get buy-in on the correct process to use before any project begins.

The checklist also helps prevent slip ups. The checklist should be looked at occasionally throughout the process, and serves as a reminder to do everything that is part of a ‘good’ project process.

Preventing black-out mistakes require that you have good people and rely more on a scalable hiring model to find excellent people.

Here’s an example of the checklist in action:

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 12.06.07 PM
Our UX checklist in action

We realized that every project is different, and so wanted a way of working to make sure that it wasn’t too prescriptive, while also surfacing important reminders about critical project milestones. To that end, we never delete a line item from the checklist template.

If we’re not going to do a particular step, we will strike that step from the processĀ  (as in ‘Task Analysis Research) and sometimes (but not always) make a note about why this step was left out of the process.

To turn an empty checkbox into a checked (completed) step, it’s easy. Simply select the empty checkbox, right-click, and choose the checkmark from the list of options, as shown here:


If you need to add a complete new list of checkboxes, or if you’d like to create your own, separate list, the process is easy. To create a list of empty check boxes, simply select the bulleted list dropdown and choose the checkboxes from the list of options, as shown here:


Why do this?

Simply, Rackspace needs to standardize our operating procedure. We need to use tools that allow us to deliver excellent results at scale in a predictable manner. We also need to influence the rest of the organization to adopt standardized, scalable methodologies that will help Rackspace better deliver excellent results. Currently, we’re a tribal organization delivering bespoke solutions using bespoke processes – each individual has their own method. Using a flexible checklist will at least help us better organize and deliver results that are more predictable and less prone to individual variation, knowledge and experience.






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