Did you ever sit in a meeting where an idea was bounced back and forth for two hours only to be dumped because the session was over? It is amazing how often ideas and concepts get stuck in debate and discussion for weeks and months. A lot of time is used to think about how something could be done and what issues may arise but very little resources are allocated to direct experimentation.
Do you have checklists for routines or small projects, such as packing your bag for vacation or organizing a party? Why not? Checklists rule! They take care of worrying and mind-occupying thoughts and let you focus on your actions. As predefined sets of tasks, items and conditions, they serve as guidelines against which actions can be compared. They are great tools to check for certain behaviors, components, processes…
In your organization (or in your mind), you might have of voluminous behavioural guides, rules of style, detailed procedures and other norms, rules, algorithms or regulations. A checklist is a condensation of that can be used to verify proper procedures, compare designs to standards or guidelines, or to evaluate something. By using checklists, you can reduce your own memory load, reduce the overall workload and eliminate certain types of errors.
Creating a good checklist, on the other hand, takes up quite a lot of time as it requires you set guidelines in place or to deal with existing ones. Most organizations (and most people) don’t have checklists for even the most basic tasks and thus repeat the same mistakes over and over again. It may seem a bit anal to create a list to pack your belongings for a business trip (and it probably is). However, by doing this you will ensure that you won’t have left any important documents or your toothbrush behind. Or think about this: do you know what to do when you get into an accident or encounter one? Will you be able to use that knowledge in the panic and chaos at such an event? There are good reasons for firefighters, police, military and health professionals to use checklists. Why shouldn’t you apply this tool within your own field or in your personal life?
If you have a smartphone, keep your checklists on it so you’ll always have access to them and be able to refine them if necessary. Start off with some easy lists just for fun. How about your shopping list, for example? Ever forgot the milk or the butter? Ever got into browsing mode and bought stuff you weren’t looking for? If you have a shopping list for the items you buy on a regular basis, it is a quick in and out. The same is true for checklists to increase efficiency in your organization.
So, grab a piece of paper and design your checklist. Break down tasks to their bare essentials. If you are planning a road trip, don’t simply write “ready car” but include all the details, such as “check tires”, “check oil” and so on. Try to be detailed and list every item clearly. Don’t forget the little checkboxes next to each item, so you can tick them off. If you already are a list-nerd and wouldn’t mind sharing your lists, go to the “my planning lists” website and enter it.
- Gawande, A.(2007, December 10). The checklist: If something so simple can transform intensive care, what else can it do? The New Yorker.
- NASA/FAA. (2000). Developing operating documents: A manual of guidelines — E_VERSION
- Easterby, R.S. (1967). Ergonomics Checklist: An Appraisal. Ergonomics 10(5):549- 556.
- Brykczynski, B. (1999). A survey of software inspection checklists. SIGSOFT Software. Eng. Notes 24, 1 (Jan. 1999), 82.
- Burian, B. K. (2004). Emergency and abnormal checklist design factors influencing flight crew response: A case study. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction in Aeronautics 2004, Toulouse, France: EURISCO International.
Happy new year, everyone!
While recuperating from the many drinks you have had, you might be thinking of your new year’s eve resolutions, such as “I’ll never drink again”. I have used the last day for good riddance and cleaned up both my mind and my household. On the first day of this year, I am ready to fill my clean slate. But how do I choose which interests to follow and what tasks are waiting for my attention?
The technique I use (quite often) to answer this question is called a “braindump”. Generally, when people say that they are going to “brainstorm” on something on their own, they do a braindump. Brainstorming can only be done in groups and are an ideation technique. What most people do when they think they are brainstorming or generating ideas on their own is actually a simple free-listing activity. So, it is something many of us do naturally. There are, however, some finer points of the technique.
Before I go into those, first a formal definition: braindumping is a technique for gathering data about a specific domain or topic by asking a person to list all the items they can think of that relate to the topic. The list doesn’t have to be in any order. People simply dump whatever thoughts come to mind in a linear fashion. It is ok to repeat items. Issues that are associated with but not really part of the topic of the list open up new lists. For instance, if you are trying to think of all the errands you will have to run during the first weeks of the year and start coming up with ideas for new projects, it makes sense to take these out of the listing to focus on them later on.
The technique is generally used to gather data in one-on-one interviews. Cultural anthropologists use it to understand particular aspects of a (sub)culture. To designers or HCI practitioners, it is quite useful for understanding tasks, terminology or issues important to users. You might, for instance, use this method to ask your user to “list all the things about this product that frustrate you”. You can then plot the frequency and position of responses from different listings and use that to quantify the input.
Make a braindump to list:
- what you like / dislike about something
- what tasks / small projects are waiting for you
- your short-term goals
Do not use a free listing to come up with new ideas, provide yourself with solutions to something or to be “creative” as it is not a creativity technique. The benefit of a braindump is that it provides large amounts of existing data in a short time without requiring a trained facilitator or interviewer. One only needs to stick to a few simple rules:
- Set a number of items to reach
- Set a time for the braindump
- Number your list items
- Create new lists for off-topic items
- Have continuous numeration
- Turn items into actions
- Bertrand, H. R. (2006). Research methods in anthropology: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (Fourth Edition). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. 301-305.
- Sinha, R. (2003). Beyond cardsorting: various listing methods to gather and analyze data, with examples from studies
In my rough outline on brainstorming, I have briefly mentioned that posing the right starting question before going off into the session is essential. A few readers pointed out to me personally that it wasn’t quite clearly described how to go on about this and that they have found few pointers in the various literature on the issue. Usually, there are various steps (such as research, analysis, synthesis) leading up to the question that triggers a brainstorming session. However, since brainstorming is applicable to various contexts and there is no single starting point suitable for everyone, I thought it’d be more helpful to write a post on the different possible ways of posing the question.
One of the methods we have used in our workshop is called associative photo analysis. In the design field and in anthropological research, this is sometimes also called photo study or visual research. The way this type of analysis is conducted is straight forward: it is a structured enquiry utilizing images which are then interpreted and associated with issues by end-users or other stakeholders.
At the rethink the climate workshop we have conducted recently, we have used a very loose way of collecting cultural probes and creating associative connections. With more focus and more preparation time, I would have used card sorting to save some time in analysis later on. I have been talking to one of my alumni about it and he wanted a short article explaining the method, so here it is.