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The timely and hazardous nature of utility fieldwork demands consistent workflows that promote security and rigor. Look no further than tower inspections, where standardized SOPs ensure that different field teams carry out their tasks in the same way each time to get the job done effectively, efficiently, and safely.

Alongside this consistency, on-the-ground teams still require a wide degree of flexibility because the conditions of their daily work change from task to task, site to site, and day to day. Agile processes and tools prepare field teams to deal with anything that comes their way.

Despite its humble appearance, the “lowly” checklist stands as one of the most effective ways utility companies build both consistent and flexible best practices, serving as a powerful data-collection tool that can revolutionize their operations, top to bottom.

The astonishing effectiveness of the lowly checklist

Everyone uses checklists, big and small, to organize tasks and increase productivity. In utilities, checklists form the backbone of much routine work, from walking through SOPs to following safety procedures. The checklist is so commonplace that few people recognize its versatility.

When we experience cognitive overload, our brains often skip over or drop certain information; checklists possess a tremendous power to fill in those gaps. In his book The Checklist Manifesto, surgeon Atul Gawande recounts the story of one Dr. Pronovost. (Get a taste of the discussion in this seminal New Yorker article.)

Working at John Hopkins Hospital, Pronovost realized that many ICU doctors, in the heat of the moment, often forgot to follow all the right steps while inserting IVs, resulting in an alarmingly high IV infection rate. Pronovost created a simple five-point checklist that incorporated the proper steps to prevent those infections, and gave nurses the power to ensure that doctors followed them.

After a pilot at Johns Hopkins that showed astonishingly good results, Provonost rolled out his checklist to underfunded hospitals in Detroit and eventually across Michigan, to extraordinary results: infection rates dropped 66% across Michigan ICUs, saving $175 million in infection-related costs and an estimated 1500 lives.

From checklist-managed to data-driven

One checklist represents a completed task. But when you channel the power of multiple or many checklists, you end up with something completely different: a detailed picture of workforce performance and how to improve it.

Even using simple elements like names, signatures, locations, completion status, or answers to yes/no or limited multiple-choice questions will produce a massive database of intelligence after you complete and collect enough checklists.

But that’s only true if you can marshal the information that checklist users collect – which is hard, if not impossible, when checklists are paper-based. Yet utilities continue to rely on paper-based checklists instead of digitizing them, an upgrade that would unlock their data and deliver a constant stream of insights.

Digital checklists: consistency and flexibility

In brief, paper checklists are cumbersome and easily lost, susceptible to input and duplication errors, and fail to accommodate multimedia data. Transcribing and circulating paper checklists also wastes precious time and resources.

In addition to these many drawbacks, paper checklists also lack the consistency and flexibility that a utility company requires to leverage the full richness of their data right.

However, recent advances in technology now make it possible to harness the true potential of checklists through digitization. No-code mobile platforms bake consistency into easy-to-create digital checklists, purpose-built for teams to follow the exact step-by-step instructions but flexible enough to change on the fly as conditions evolve.

Let’s examine some fundamental ways digital checklists improve the consistency and flexibility of workflows for utility companies:

  • Data integrity. Paper-based systems have a data reliability problem. Not just easily lost and prone to input errors, but when multiple copies of a paper checklist for the same activity are always in circulation, they hollow out the integrity of your data at both a granular and strategic level. With mobile platforms, a digital record becomes the one consistent record of choice and the building block from which to form reliable decisions.
  • Cloud-connected data. When everyone, from field teams to the office, works from the same platform across devices connected to the cloud, they access the same underlying data with near-real-time updates. On the other hand, paper checklists disperse data across different teams and forms and so can never generate this kind of standardization. Ironically, the rigorous consistency of digital tools leads to greater flexibility – field teams can notify the office of potential issues requiring immediate attention or, vice versa, can be updated as SOPs change in real-time.
  • Agility. Agile field teams respond better to the vast array of tasks and conditions at hand that can change daily or even hourly. No-code digital platforms make it easy to quickly create a checklist and accommodate any specific conditions of individual jobs, whether you have to account for different state, county, or municipal boundaries, the needs of different clients, the requirement for different equipment or even the fluctuating weather or physical conditions of a geographic site.
  • Reporting. Reporting for compliance, auditing, and billing purposes remains integral to the basic functions of utilities. But with multiple copies of different paper checklists in circulation, data collection and transcription prove difficult, riddling the reporting process with unreliable data to the extent that your report may not reflect the reality on the ground. With instant access at the push of a button, digital platforms always organize and collate reliable data, as well as produce a variety of reporting formats to meet the needs of different clients.

Checkmate

Leveraging the power of digital checklists, utility companies immediately integrate consistency and flexibility into the foundations of their everyday work and, from there, can build up to better-informed and better-performing business operations.

Access to reliable, real-time data widens your visibility, so you can better monitor a field’s team activities, from job progress to emergencies, and then plan accordingly. In this way, the consistency and flexibility of on-the-ground teams rise to the management and enterprise level, leading to a better allocation of resources and a continual streamlining of processes.

When your field teams digitize normal work processes into smart checklists, you convert their everyday tasks into useful data and transform your entire company into the smart workforce it needs to be.

Watch our webinar to learn how Fulcrum harnesses the power of digital checklists for effective process management.

About the author

Jake is the head of product marketing for Fulcrum.

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