What does it mean to be a professional?

A technical definition may include the fact that one is in a ‘profession’. This is generally defined as a line of work that requires some sort of certification, where you subscribe to a code of conduct or ethics, and where recurrent training is required. Accountancy, healthcare, and the legal profession are all obvious examples.

What do these attributes of a profession help to insure? That when you hire one of these people, they know what they are doing and are current in their knowledge.

But more broadly speaking, I often think of professionalism as the ability to be successful in a reproducible way. 

As a database developer, how do we insure that we are successful, time after time?

Certainly continuing education is important. Annual certification helps insure this, and helps demonstrate this to others. In our industry, self education is critical. At Portage Bay, we spend significant resources on an ongoing basis learning new technologies, improving our knowledge of existing systems, and certifying in the latest versions of FileMaker. Experience is also very important. With seven developers, we are able to leverage off each others knowledge, code review each others work, and share common scripts and code libraries.

Documentation is also essential. Writing requirements, use cases, and specifications up front and updating them as you complete a project helps yourself, the client, and future developers to understand the project better.

Checklists are also a very important tool. At Portage Bay, one of our important internal applications is our PBS_Checklist application. Whenever we have a process that has to be repeated from time to time, we strive to document it in the form of a checklist template in this database. The template defines the steps necessary to complete the process successfully and includes notes from people who’ve executed the checklist over time.

In our checklist app, the checklist can be executed any number of times. When you create a new instance of the checklist from the template, you get a copy of the process for a given point in time and a given execution of the process. The items can be checked off as they are completed, and notes added. This creates a record of the process being done and who did it.

For example, we have a checklist for SSL certificate installation on FileMaker Server. This is a process that sometimes fails for reasons that are not always clear and requires being careful about the different files that are created and used. It’s a perfect example of a process that can be well documented as a checklist. 

I’m not the primary person in our organization that does SSL cert installs, and I find it very helpful to have the checklist to check off each step as I go through the process.

Other scenarios where checklists are invaluable:

  • Deployments to client production servers, especially for complex environments

  • Updating our web site when a new version of FileMaker is released

  • FileMaker Server installs with our preferred configuration options

Pilots have used checklists for many years. They were originally introduced as a tool during World War II when pilots had to be trained more quickly and a mechanism needed to be developed to allow them to fly safely without the reliance on years of experience. Today, no one would imagine a modern cockpit without a checklist for every phase of flight or emergency operation.

There are commercial ‘software as a service’ options for this functionality. We looked at Process Street before deciding to implement our own solution in FileMaker.

However you do it, Checklists are a great tool for enhancing your professionalism as a FileMaker developer.

~John Newhoff


2 thoughts on “Checklists”

  1. Great points! A great book about checklist is The Checklist Manifesto.. really makes someone a believer..
    Any chance you have a demo file of how you implemented them?

    1. Thanks Michael. We appreciate your input. It’s funny that you should mention The Checklist Manifesto, because I am also a big fan and am working on a follow-up post that reviews some of the points the author makes in his book and how they apply to our internal application. As far as a demo file, we are in the process of preparing the Checklist App for the Claris Marketplace. Please stay tuned for updates.

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