HMW Checklist

A checklist outlining the most important elements of a community mindset generates disruptive discussion and creates collaboration.

Photo of Moss Pike
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Ver. 2 (8/22/2015)

Ver. 1 (7/30/2015)


I am inspired by Gawande's excellent book Checklist Manifesto (cf. the "Discover" phase post) to consider how a checklist might work in education, particularly in meetings.

How It Works

  • What  A simple checklist to help educators create a productive and collaborative culture in strategic meetings. It’s intended to help guide teachers through key steps of the design process. Specifically, it’s intended to help teachers challenge their own assumptions before a meeting begins so that we don’t fall into the trap of naming solution before we understand the problem.
  • Who  The HMW Checklist is intended for faculty and staff.
  • Where  Faculty/staff in an administrative meeting to discuss a problem or plan a course of action, when a checklist would supplant a traditional agenda.
  • When  Checklists would supplant the traditional agenda during faculty and staff meetings.  
  • Why  Gawande's stories uncovered the power that checklists have to encourage conversation and collaboration, while also ensuring that everyone involved in the conversation has some form of agency. Checklists designed and used by decision-makers within a school can have the same effect, by enabling faculty and staff to approach collaborative conversations more openly. As a result, discussions welcome more opinions and diversity of thinking, while we also take time to understand problems better. With regular use, the community can build an innovation mindset, opening the culture to innovation.

The Nitty Gritty Details

The checklist prototype is simple: I imagine a heavy cardstock sheet about 8" x 5" so that it feels more portable than a traditional full-sized 8.5" x 11" page and is easy to share, trade, and post on the wall. The checklist offers plenty of space for writing and sketching. Cf. a digital version here in Google Docs (feel free to comment or remix!).

More Detail on the "What"

    1. Define  The checklist first asks that the group write down the problem and the users that it affects. There's no need to get too granular here; just jot down observations of the issue based on what users have reported through interviews. What's the question that brought us all to the table? The "Draw It" method may be helpful.
    2. Assumptions  Next, it's absolutely essential for us to take note of the assumptions we have made surrounding the problem. What has been attempted in the past and why? What are the "knowns" and what are the variables? Most importantly, have the assumptions actually been tested, and if not, how do we test them? This is a key step in the design process and is by far the most commonly omitted one, in my experience. Perhaps at this stage, we also evaluate the opportunity cost in not pursuing the idea.
    3. How might we...?  Once we have a better grasp on the question, the users, and our assumptions, we can work our "How might we...? (HMW) question for the problem (cf. the "HMW" method). Bernie Roth's description of the iterative HMW process (pp. 64-69) in his book The Achievement Habit provides an excellent model to emulate in this step: turn your question into an answer by asking what the initial question would get you, if answered. It's here in this step where we'll define the question that will answer the problem posed in the first step above.
    4. Ideate  With the HMW set, the group can ideate through possible solutions to the question, thinking convergently in the process. I see people taking a few minutes to ideate quietly on their own, before sharing ideas together. This way, we have the opportunity to capitalize on our own thinking, before hearing others' ideas. Using the back of the checklist card, the group can sketch out ideas that are then shared and discussed in the final step.
    5. Ranking  With the ideation step complete, the group next shares out ideas one by one, moving through the "Card Sort" or "Bundle Ideas" methods to narrow down their and organize them into the most important components.

There is no prototype step in the checklist, since the convergent thinking phase of the design process should be completed together.

Potential For Impact

The checklist is a tool that scaffolds collaboration within the group, with attention paid to each of the most important steps in the process and ensuring everyone in the room has equal voice. With regular use of the checklist in the community, the collaborative habits of mind and active listening skills that it creates can become a fixture of a school's culture.

If more people within a community developed this kind of design mindset through use of the checklist tool, we might become better at defining problems and building empathy for those affected by them before working on solutions, thereby building a stronger community. This community will be noted for its problem-solving skills, collaborative nature, an ability to listen actively to each other, and its bias toward action, all of which are necessary components for a culture that embraces innovation.

Scaling and Adapting

The steps above illustrate how I tend to think about the problem-solving process, based on my experience in meetings. The checklist described above can easily be adjusted to suit a particular culture or group of people, including checklists for classrooms, parents, club/extracurricular activities, etc.

Because the attached image is only a rough sketch of what a HMW checklist might look like, I'd love to test different versions to discover what's most helpful in articulating the kind of design mindset underlying the checklist. What essential step is it missing? Is any of the detail superfluous? Does the checklist actually help us define and solve problems more accurately, and does it have a measurable affect on culture? I'm excited to share ideas!

Thanks to Charles Shryock, IV for sharing the "Checklist for Checklists"!


Join the conversation:

Photo of George Phillip

Love this idea Moss! If used correctly, this could replace the generic graphic organizer many students use to keep ideas strait.

Photo of Moss Pike

Thanks, George! My idea is that classrooms, dept. office, meeting rooms, etc. could have checklists that suit the kinds of conversations that we want to promote, as is fitting for our culture. I'm really interested to see what other checklists we can come up with, and I can't wait to test them!

Photo of Margaret Powers

This is a really interesting idea! I'm curious about how it could work in department/grade team meetings as a tool for planning. I love the idea of giving everyone a voice (e.g., specialists, teachers, etc). I'm wondering if the checklist would look any different for lesson planning? As someone who meets with each grade team, I could see this as a great tool to prototype with each grade a bit differently and see what works well/doesn't with each group as the year progresses.

Photo of Moss Pike

Great idea! What would a curriculum-planning checklist look like? What would the essential components include, and how might a checklist like this create more of a dynamic curriculum, perhaps with more interdisciplinary work? Another idea I'm going to think on--thanks for sharing, Maggie!

Photo of Margaret Powers

I've been turning this over in my head and don't feel like I have an answer. I probably should read the Checklist Manifesto first! But maybe we can all come up with something together? What if we created a handbook of checklists that educators at different levels could adapt for their environment? For example, a teacher checklist, a coaching checklist, and ones for department chairs, curriculum coordinators, principals, etc? Then even if your entire school isn't on board, you could grab/adapt the teacher version and try to scale up or if your school is totally ready to dive in, they could take *all* the checklists and start using them and maybe even making their own.

What do you think? Anyone interested in diving deeper with this? Here's a Google doc to capture ideas:

Photo of Charles Shryock, IV

This is a great idea! What I like about Moss's checklist here is that it isn't too prescriptive. In my experience, teacher leaders are dying for flexile tools like these, to help them organize procedures in meetings and enhance communication. When I was introduced to Design Thinking, it was in a full-day workshop, and I thought people needed to be "trained" in it first. Now I just dive in and out of the different habits of DT.

Photo of Joseph Broughton

A lot of curriculum planning revolves around "measurable goals" usually in the form of assessment scores. I wonder if a checklist like this for curriculum planning would expose alternatives to assessment and not just ways to achieve traditional assessment improvement.

Photo of Joseph Broughton

We just had a curriculum-planning meeting that used the SMART goals system. Here's an example:
The SMART system makes a lot of assumptions that your checklist may help uncover. The "Why" aspect of the SMART system tends to be more of a regurgitation of cliches instead of an actual critical look of motivations.

Photo of Moss Pike

If you'd like to join our team and help work on a prototype of the checklist, we'd love to have you, George!

Photo of Moss Pike

Agreed; great idea, Joseph! And I also hope that a checklist can introduce more measurable goals into administrative initiatives, which often lack any method of evaluation. I'm becoming a bigger believer that "what gets measured, gets done."

Photo of Moss Pike

Thanks for sharing this; adding it to our list of resources. I too have seen how we tend to answer "Why" with cliches and echoes from prior years. I really want to do more with this question, especially by combining a movement toward more measurability and accountability.

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