Use of checklists in R&D management

10 Jun 2010 Sandeep Mehta

A blog post in the Harvard Business Review talks about “What Sort of Checklist Should You Be Using?”  The post lays out five types of checklists based on Mr. Gawande’s work.  I believe two are important to R&D management

3. At a construction site in Boston, Gawande encounters what I’ll call a coordination list. You have an extremely complicated endeavor that no one person can fully understand, so you set up procedures that force the various specialists involved to consult each other on a regular basis. Again, this seems like something with all sorts of applications outside of construction (and medicine).

4. Gawande describes several value investment managers who use checklists to make sure they always follow certain steps before putting money into a company. This is a discipline list. In a calm, reasoned state of mind, you set down a list of procedures you want to follow to keep you from making bad decisions later, in the heat of the moment. It seems like these can’t really be standardized but, in part because they’re not standardized, they can be used almost anywhere.

Add a sixth type which I have found to be extremely important in R&D Management: Review Checklist. This is probably a combination of 3 and 4 with a flavor of risk management and project management.  My experience is that feedback from project reviews is very useful, but extremely difficult to capture.  There is also a lot of variability on types of responses you get from reviewers (based on their backgrounds).  I believe standardized checklists can help improve review effectiveness immensely.  Even so, many firms I have visited do not use them consistently.  Even when the do, they do not capture all aspects of project management in their checklists.  What have you seen?

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