The Checklist Manifesto (How to Get Things Right)

The Checklist Manifesto
How to Get Things Right

Atul Gawande

Ths is a book about the humble checklist and its surprising power to ensure complex tasks are done effectively, especially in high stress or critical situations.

Atul Gawande is a general and endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hopsital in Boston as well as a staff writer at The New Yorker. In this book he gives a lot of details of health care, surgical procedures and post-operative care where the risk of infection is very high. He describes the development of a checklist in conjunction with the World Health Organisation to use in surgical operations around the world. This checklist (shown at the end of this article) takes about 90 seconds to complete and has cut the rate of fatalities by more than a third. More than twelve countries have implemented this checklist.

So why was it necessary to write a book about checklists? The world has become very complicated and with complexity comes the possibiity of mistakes or failure. In the past it was possible to know enough about a skill or trade, for example, being a Master Builder. Now we have become specialised and often overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of information available to us.

Gawande argues that a properly designed checklist can help us do difficult tasks. I am aware of checklists used by pilots and astronauts.  Checklists are a useful too when the tasks are so complex that it is not possible to carry out reliably from memory alone.

Checklists are a useful form of external memory. Why try to remember every step when you can record all the details in a list? This will ensure that you do all the steps and not make mistakes of omission. A checklist compensates for our flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness.  The key step it to identify which kinds of situations checklists can help with and which ones they can’t.

What makes a good checklist? It should be simple,  precise, efficient and to the point.  A checklist has reminders not detailed explanations as the user is expected to have the required skills and training.  A checklist can be a “Read – Do” checklist to remind what needs to be done or a “Do – Confirm” checklist which ensures that tasks have been completed.

Checklists in my life

The Checklist Manifesto is an inspiring book and got me thinking how I could use checklists in my daily life. My job doesn’t have the responsibilities of a surgeon or pilot but I have developed a few checklists:

  • Weekly Review (for my Getting Things Done personal management system)
  • Monthly Personal Finance – list of things to pay after receiving my monthly pay check
  • Annual Tax Return preparation

I have developed checklist for Toastmasters.

  • Checklist of things to consider when preparing a speech
  • Toastmaster / Chairman at an Evaluation Contest
  • Toastmaster – checklist of information for each speaker

What checklists can you create?

What checklists could you create to help in your job? Maybe you work in Accounting – Month End, Quarter End and Year End checklists. Human Resources would have checklists for Interviews, New Employee Induction and Performance Reviews. Support departments would have checklists for gathering information about problems to ensure all required information has been collected. How about a checklist for packing for a business trip?

More information about the author, book and sample checklists can be found at the author’s web site gawande.com.

 

Here is the Surgery Checklist: (click to enlarge)

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