How Checklists Help Me Produce and Host My Podcasts


Regular followers of my blog know that I've been creating audio podcasts since 2006. Later today (at 3 PM), I am publishing #86 in the series, an interview with David Sundahl, PhD of Rule 4 Consulting. I've made mistakes every few podcasts, including:

  • Linking to the wrong file name on the post page for the podcast (leading to a 404 error)
  • Forgetting to update the main podcast page when a new episode is out
  • Loading the wrong streaming player onto the podcast page (leading to Episode 51 playing on the page for #52
  • Forgetting to update the guest info (leading to guest #58 being listed in podcast #59's iTunes info)

I'm not a dummy (I'd like to think) and I have enough experience with Podcasting that I know the steps involved and I've certainly published most of them without error. That said, I'm a huge fan of the Checklist approach, as written about by Dr. Atul Gawande in The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right and Dr. Peter Pronovost in Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals: How One Doctor's Checklist Can Help Us Change Health Care from the Inside Out.

Checklists can have a huge impact in healthcare – reducing errors and infection rates, improving outcomes for patients and reducing costs for the healthcare organizations.

I'd be a major hypocrite if I didn't use checklists myself… so I do use checklists. When I've participated in some live internet video broadcasting for our Healthcare Value Leaders Network members (and our public event), my colleagues and I have used checklists to make sure we didn't forget key steps.

Because of my podcast errors (none of which were anywhere close to life-threatening), I started using a checklist to help my podcast prep. A picture of that checklist is below:

Some of the key points for the checklist that, I think, are consistent with the Gawande approach (and I haven't yet read Pronovost's book, but I assume the recommendations are similar).

  • I do the work, I created the checklist. I didn't take a shortcut to find a checklist on the internet that someone else made (some hospitals purchase an O.R. checklist, which might stifle their ability to create one of their own).
  • This isn't a detailed step-by-step procedure. There are probably 100 steps in making a podcast, but the checklist has the things that are easily forgotten or missed.
  • It's a single page.
  • The steps aren't necessarily a precise sequence. Some steps can be done in parallel or in a different order — I don't spell this out. This is a checklist for my benefit, not a procedure for someone else.
  • The checklist is tested and revised over time, as needed.
  • It's not a ton of paperwork.

So let me walk you through how I used the checklist in making Podcast #86.

In the picture below, you'll see I checked off steps as I completed them (not necessarily right after each task was done). You'll see that I wrote in something new — a new error I hadn't made before.

You can see I wrote in a new item, “Confirm last episode #.”  I made a new error that I hadn't made in any previous episode. I recorded the intro for the Sundahl podcast and said, “Welcome to Episode #85 of the Lean Blog Podcast.”

D'oh! Episode #85 was the last one, my conversation with David Meier. The fact that I said the wrong episode number and I didn't catch it right away, that led to rework. I had not published the episode to the public yet, so I had “containment” of the defective podcast episode. I had to go back into Audacity to delete and rerecord the intro. I had to re-publish the file as an MP3. I had less rework than if I had caught the error later.

So, with a new failure mode, I changed my checklist. I am adding a new check and I'll edit my document for use next time.

I continued with the checklist… and it helped me catch two more errors, just as Dr. Gawande reports that checklists catch an error in his operating room on a weekly basis.

As you can see in the photo below, I made notes that I had two different typos in the two file links, one for the MP3 file (I spelled “Sundahl” wrong) and one for the AAC file. I enter these file names by typing, so it's error prone. I use a standardized naming convention, but sometimes I mess up. Maybe there's a way I can copy and paste that file name in the future.

I still have two items unchecked until after I publish the podcast episode. You can see that part of my reflection was a note to update the Checklist when I am done.

There, episode complete. The checklist was incredibly helpful. Unlike the lawyer who wrote the WSJ review that ripped Gawande's book, I don't find that the checklist hampers my creativity one iota. The creativity comes in finding guests and trying to plan and craft a good discussion. I don't have a checklist that tells me how to be a good interviewer during the recording (I don't think I'm the best interviewer and I stumble over attempts at asking improvised questions, but I try to improve).

I love my checklist. You couldn't take it away from me. It catches errors and improves quality (and saves rework time). I'd call that a success and a helpful tool.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. My wife and I reconnected with a Navy friend from 30 years ago. He likes to sail, and took us out on his boat. We noticed he was fanatical about his check-lists (getting underway and also putting things away). “What’s with the checklists Pete?”, we asked. (Pete was not a checklist guy 30 years ago.) But he became a Navy pilot and now flies for FedEx, so we can understand the checklists, and how they carry over to non-work areas. We find ourselves in need of checklists (especially when we travel). We are constantly forgetting things (at home or at our destination). So, we are working on “travel checklists”. Mike
    .-= Mike Stoecklein ´s last blog ..Top 10 Wish List =-.

  2. Here is a travel pre-departure checklist as submitted by Dan Markovitz of TimeBack Management (

    via DocStoc:

    Dan said:

    I use this checklist before I leave for my monthly trips to NYC.

    You’d think that doing this trip every 4-5 weeks would make a checklist unnecessary, but until I started using it, I’d *always* forget something. And it ain’t that complicated.


  3. I would liken a checklist in terms of the recent airplane crashes. Most often than not such accidents generally tie back to – checklist not followed.

    Hence if one can become wiser only after the moment at hindsight for such black swan events, I wonder if there are preventive measures which can trigger alerts if checklist is not followed? Or at least if some activity in the checklist is skipped.

    Can the black box on a realtime basis alert pilots if anything is not been done as per checklist? I wonder!

    • I’m not sure that’s correct. Can you please cite a recent case where “not following the checklist” was the cause?

      It is an interesting idea to try to have some sort of real time alerts (to the pilots or regulators) about something not being followed… but I wonder if that would create other problems as a side effect? There would have to perhaps be an environment that’s non punitive, as are other safety improvement approaches in aviation?


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