Checklists are fantastic tools for project management professionals. They’re useful for everything from ensuring the right people are included on important e-mails to closing out contract negotiations. But there are some areas where checklists leave something to be desired. Below we’ve pulled together a few common places where checklists fail, and what PMPs can do to fill in the gaps and keep their projects running smoothly.

The problem: The myriad hand offs that occur throughout a project are among the most glaring potential checklist failure points. No matter if the project is large or small, there are sure to be lots of transitions. Tasks are handed off from one individual on the team to another, and sometimes they’re also sent outside the PMO for further action. Information is also frequently handed off, shifting from team to team as the project moves forward and data is updated or expanded. Even labor resources may be passed from one area of responsibility to another as different phases of the project ramp up and wind down. Checklists, however, are often less transitory. This opens the door to potential disconnects.

The fix: Consistent follow up is key when it comes to hand offs. The simplest solution is to add a post-transition follow up. This gives team members the opportunity to ensure that the completion of any additional actions impacting their areas are confirmed. It’s also a good spot for a double check, since the individual receiving the hand off may not have good visibility on any outstanding activities.

The problem: Isolated changes to a project’s checklists provide the perfect breeding ground for failures. That’s because, with the hectic pace of activities during the project, it can be difficult to let those managing dependent areas know about each and every change. But it’s also tough to recall minor changes once the project winds down. Checklist changes then fall into no-man’s land—updated in one area but not revised in others. This has the potential to put activities out of sync or leave important information undistributed when the next project begins.

The fix: Without adding too much to the team’s workload, consider maintaining a list of all changes made to every checklist used within the PMO. Changes should be added to the list as they happen, with the entire list being reviewed during the post-mortem phase to ensure that any updates in one area are disseminated to other portions of the team as appropriate. It’s likely many changes won’t have wide-reaching effects, but it’s better to capture the information and not need it than to run into difficulties later.

The problem: There is no “typical” project. This leaves a lot of checklists—many geared toward the type of project the PMO handles most often—inherently incomplete. Every project will have its nuances, from the use of a niche vendor to the inclusion of new internal stakeholders. If there is no provision for these sorts of changes to be made within the checklist structure, something is almost certain to be overlooked. Compounding the issue is that non-standard items from previous checklists are often removed as soon as the project is complete, leaving the potential for omissions when a similar project again comes through the PMO.

The fix: The post-mortem analysis and pre-launch activities are key opportunities to round out any tasks or other data that may be missing from the PMO’s master checklist templates. It’s preferable that boilerplate checklists have items that can be crossed off before the project even begins rather than be missing checklist components when the team is in the throes of a complex and time-consuming project.

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Project management training blog & tips provided by PMAlliance