On the afternoon of October 30, 1935, Major Ployer Hill, chief of the U.S. Army Air Corp’s flying branch, boarded the left seat of the Boeing Model 299 prototype at Wright Field. Model 299, known to the U.S. Army as the XB-17, was at the time the most sophisticated heavy bomber ever built. It sported four engines, an adjustable fuel/air mixture, controllable pitch propellers, wing flaps, electric trim, and retractable landing gear, making it the most advanced heavy bomber even a seasoned pilot like Hill had ever seen.
Soon after takeoff, the aircraft pitched up, stalled, and crashed to the ground killing Major Ployer Hill and the Boeing chief test pilot Leslie Tower. The tragedy wasn’t due to a faulty design, or a systems failure, it was a simple moment of absentmindedness. Further investigation revealed the pilots had forgotten to release the control lock, which frees up the controls of the elevator and rudders. Even the most experienced airmen and pilots have made simple mistakes in procedures that cost them their lives. Since then, the U.S. Army has mandated a checklist of duties to be completed for each phase of a takeoff, flight, and landing, a standard that can be applied across the board, to every process.
Just as the most sophisticated and advanced aircraft can fail from a simple mistake, so can your business. Creating a checklist and documenting standard procedures can be effective for both very complex and routine activities. This can help to maintain internal controls and minimize your risk. A proper checklist doesn’t need to detail every step of a process, but must highlight the most important steps.
As Atul Gawande, author of “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right”, simply states, “Good checklists, on the other hand are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything–a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps–the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.” This is a book we recommend highly.
Is your business following specific processes, and taking the necessary steps to document them? We know good systems and the importance of documenting processes. Part of an audit is understanding company procedures and evaluating internal controls. This process often allows us to identify the potential for costly mistakes before they can occur. Perhaps we can help you with your processes, and we’d appreciate the opportunity to do so.