The Power of Checklists

Big Red Car here.

The Boss was up very early this morning and was working on a checklist he keeps to guide him through conversations he has with young budding entrepreneurs in the startup business.  He uses it himself.  He is a checklist guy.

The Checklist Manifesto

If you have not read Atul Gawande’s fabulous book The Checklist Manifesto, stop what you are doing right now and go order it on Amazon or your favorite bookseller.

I will not try to compete with the hundreds of reviews of this great book so please go to that link and research it yourself.  I promise it is a great read and you will find a number of things to apply immediately in your own life.


Checklists are powerful tools to document and streamline processes that are long and complex or very, very important.

Back when The Boss was in the acquisitions business, he had a 20-page acquisition checklist that became a powerful tool to drive the team effort, to ensure that no stone was left unturned and to dramatically increase the quality of the entire process.

It was really a process checklist and it worked well in conjunction with:

1.  a set of acquisition criteria;

2.  a written acquisition philosophy; and,

3.  standardized acquisition documents.

The checklist was a process standardization tool and it worked.

Startup and small company checklist

Another checklist The Boss uses is one he recently dusted off from his angel investing phase back in the mid-1990s.  I am attaching a copy here as a PDF.  You are free to use it and adapt it as you see fit.

It is very useful for startups thinking about their own formation and getting out of the cradle and learning to walk.

It is useful for investors who are trying to assess the viability of a startup which is in that awkward infancy in which it is difficult to see beyond the “idea” to the “business”.

It is a useful way to assess the organization of a small operating business.

Here is a copy for your use.  If you do use it, please acknowledge its use by contacting The Boss.

Wisdom of the Campfire checklist REVISED 24 Jan 2013


If you need any help with it, please contact The Boss.  His contact info is on the inside of the document.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.

Be kind to yourself, you deserve it.

12 thoughts on “The Power of Checklists

  1. JLM, Interested to see the checklist compared to other metrics like Business Model Canvas and the JLM diagram (you have more questions here than there, as I transcribed it from your post on AVC). Your list has several overlaps which BMC dumps in one category i.e.

    • .
      I will be interested to see what you come up with because you are a keen observer.

      The Checklist has been around since the mid-1990s. I recently updated it because I have been looking at a few deals.

      The post I made was off the cuff.

      No attempt to correlate anything.

      Let’s just see if the old brain is even remotely consistent.

      Hope you are well.

      • If I am a keen observer it is due to work in design. Design is about function, and art, as you know.

        I saw Steve Blank talk recently and told him I will redesign BMCanvas. I told my new “boss” Murray Low at Columbia that I will redesign the BMC, which he also finds counter intuitive, and he awaits my design. I will incorporate @fredwilson’s hack pad stuff rom MBA Mondays. I will stick it all through a meatgrinder and see what comes out. I will ask others for comments, and appify it on my platform.

        Let’s see what happens. It should be very interesting to superimpose all these “lenses” which people see businesses and deals thru all focused together. Galileo/Newton for business vision.

        • .

          My Perfect Daughter is now settled in working for Uncommon Goods in Brooklyn as a graphic artist/designer and living in Chelsea.

          Just about the perfect job and arrangement. Well other than that pesky hurricane.

          I have really begun to understand and appreciate her design work and what she got for all that tuition. She is very talented and has already begun to turn out some great work. She is such a perfectionist and professional.

          They measure revenue related to a new graphic design element like an email blast and it is impressive to see their results.

          I bought her a Wacom pencil for Christmas and she is in Heaven.

          The design business is a very rigorous and demanding field.

          I will be interested to see what you come up with. I know it will be great.


          • I hope one day to meet PD. She is a stone’s throw from me. Glad she found a good fit at work. Even if she didn’t, that’s how we learn, right? I have found the toughest fits to actually create the most growth through growing pains.

            You perhaps have all critical faculties from engineering and other fields to enjoy the rigor of design, but the training of the eye is key to understanding why a solution is perfect or not. Training the eye in a multitude of disciplines, and then connecting those dots is an ongoing journey for the visual crowd. Jump fields and you have a whole new vernacular and set of criteria. It’s great you can experience it through PD.

            BTW, I dig the way you are paying forward here on this blog. Well played as you say.

          • PS “stone’s throw” in Italian is ‘tira di un scioppo’ which means the length of a shot from a bayonnet, which I thought you’d like.

          • .
            Other than having to walk through a bit of a dodgey neighborhood to get to the subway, her job is otherwise perfect in every way. She is loving it.

            The real thing is that she has now accelerated way beyond anything I thought I might have known about anything. She is so far advanced already in her profession that I am already learning from her.

            Getting her that Wacom is about all I contribute anymore. It is a good feeling because I know she can make it on her own now.

            I remember coming home from overseas and my Old Man telling me — you’re on your own now.

            Funny thing I began to appreciate his wisdom more after that because I could understand it better. To this day he remains the single most intelligent and crafty son of a bitch I have ever met. With a moral compass that has never wavered.


          • Good for her. Lucky you. And I’d love to meet the crafty SOB that is JLM Sr. Her daily walk in dodgy will make her crafty like him.

            Do you reconsider design (as a field and vocation) now that you see it through her eyes?

            Wish I had my father around still. You’ve heard his pedigree and he could simply run circles around people, if so inclined that is. His absence sent me into the DIY mode I have lived by since 16 when he died. Made up the rules, got lost, found, floated, sank some, and learned to believe in what he felt was true value – delivering original thought. That is my mental compass, rigor of mind + heart.

            My passion is my own, but that passion also includes living up to that standard. It can include your get to work early and leave late philosophy in out working others, but originality is funny and has it’s own muse. Amount of work ≠ original thought. So rigor is not as much about the work but about the nailing it. As I tackle the ‘boil the ocean’ project as Jerry calls it I am lucky to have him, you, and AVCers helping with my startup MBA on the biz building side.

  2. I love The Checklist Manifesto. I used checklists when I was a student Naval Aviator, when I was practicing law (you can’t be a litigator without checklists, you will commit malpractice at some point) and now I try to use them when creating new businesses, products, etc. They become more “art” in the new business setting as what you put on the checklist is not always set in stone, nor does following all the steps mean you will succeed. At a minimum though, the checklists can improve cycle times and help in homing in on what factors are helping or hurting the development of the business. There are some good startup checklists for this type of use in Nail It Then Scale It, and also in Steve Blank’s excellent books. I highly recommend both these books and their checklists for startups or new business in general (new product or market introduction for example).

    • .
      I am a pilot also — just a Bonanza pilot with a couple of thousand hours. Great fun. Anyone who has ever been around a plane understands checklists.

      A Naval Aviator is a BFD. I have a great Naval close air support story for you some day.

      Any organizational discipline can only help but the results in the medical profession as it relates to mortality are unbelievable.

      I have read both of those books. Excellent reads but my problem is I read them and don’t refer back to them enough.

      Did you look at the checklist above?

      Hope you are well. Thanks for writing.


      • I did look at your checklist and find it very thorough. Maybe you would consider turning it into a google doc? I saw one of your comments on Brad Feld’s blog about your positive opinion on the utility of google docs and couldn’t agree more. What I like about your checklist is it can show “what you know, what you don’t know and what you don’t know that you don’t know.” I think some subchecklists would also be helpful so that the user can be guided into how to find the answer needed to check the item on the main list. Who knows, turn it into a google doc, point to it from your blog and get the wisdom of the community to improve an already great piece of work!

        I wish I was still flying and envy you your Bonanza! Since I left active duty in the Navy 20+ years ago, there alternatively was either was time and no money or money and no time – because IMO if you can’t fly once a week, don’t fly (at least in the left seat) at all!

        • .
          I will do exactly that. Great idea.

          For a while when my kids had just headed off to college, I was flying 350 hours per year which is a lot of hours for a private pilot.

          They were at UGA and I was constantly going back and forth to the East Coast stopping in to see them.

          Seemed like I was always going 2-5 hour legs.

          I would only fly with weather at one end. Flew a lot of approaches. Never liked flying an approach at night and just stopped doing that.

          Thanks again.


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