On May 13th, I wrote a post on the principals of a good checklist. On that list was the guideline of keeping checklists to between five and nine items.
As I work with financial advisors on developing checklists and testing them out, I realize that I was wrong about that. In researching where I found that principal, I saw the original reference to it in the Checklist Manifesto. The number came from Daniel Boorman of Boeing, and the context was emergencies in cockpits during flight. In an emergency, Boorman finds it is a good idea to limit that kind of list to what can be held in human working memory, hence the number.
Looking up other references to the checklists in the book, I found later that the surgical checklist that Gawande developed for the World Health Organization was 19 steps long. I realized some checklists for more complex, larger projects would be vastly longer than five to nine items.
Here is the principal: The checklist should not slow the process down, and the checklist for any one process should be kept to one page. When you are developing checklists for your practice, the length should be determined by the function and the frequency. When utilizing a checklist during a client appointment, or some other occasion where time is a premium, or in a process you utilize frequently, the list may be short.
Other times, you may have a checklist for a situation that happens only rarely, and when it is not urgent. I have been talking with Dr. Katie Votava about submitting a post on what to consider when the client has certain health changes, for example. That is a predictable but infrequent occurrence. The list of what to consider or review may be much longer because you do not address it very often. And even if the list takes some time to move through, it may save you a lot of time in limiting how long the topic takes to research (or the time it would take to correct a mistake because you missed something!).
When it comes to financial advisor practice management, then, the principle is not to aim for a specific length checklist, but to tailor it to the time commitment of the task at hand. If used during a client meeeting, it should be brief. To maintain the quality of a developing client recommendation or an investment selection decision, it may be much longer. The objective is to make sure you cover all the important steps without slowing the process down. As long as it saves time (regardless of its length), it will be an asset and not an obstacle