I recently finished reading "The Checklist Manifesto" by Atul Gawande. According Gawande checklists greatly help in avoiding mistakes in surgery and in aircraft cockpits particularly where team work is a pre-requisite to success.
Almost all forms of work are amenable to checklists and a general process.If everyone follows the process then the higher order knowledge work can kick in,more effectively. Thus during surgery the right anesthesia in the right dose by the the anesthesiologist and consideration of say prior blood pressure is essential for the surgeon to do his or her job.
As Gawande points out surgeons and specialists balk at following a checklist. "Invasion of professional freedom" they say. The point is that if the processes work at the routine level (eg blood pressure confirmed and checked) then the surgeon can deal with a new problem that might be apparent let's say when the abdomen is opened up.
Gawande recounts Sully Sullenberger's landing on the Hudson and explains that it is because of checkists and great co-ordination that Sully Sullenberger was able to excel and rise to a new level of pilot performance and get the plane down on the Hudson and save all lives. Clearly, fear of death at least allows one high knowledge profession ( Pilots) to follow checklists !
Any other high knowledge professional (scientist,engineer,professor,doctor,manager,lawyer, investment banker etc.) does not have imminent personal "life at stake" like the airline pilot. So there is a disdain for both process and the underlying humble checklist that Gawande advocates.
Quality accreditation (eg ISO 9000) and outsourcing are two events that force organizations to define their processes and in effect create checklists.For example, recently when a local manufacturer decided to outsource forgings it realized that it never had drawings made because it was all in house and there was really no systematic drawings available to give to suppliers. In any case, drawings were developed and eventually advanced engineering scientists could wrap their minds around higher order problems rather than trying to deal with internally made forgings that worked well but the informality had its toll in confusion and time.
All in all Gawande's book is a good read and inspiration for managers. If you have a play book and a checklist to get the basics right, you really start playing the game !