The Checklist Manifesto is an argument for the use of checklists to help us manage complexity. As a surgeon Atul Gawande has researched and experienced firsthand how checklists have reduced deaths by reinforcing behaviors known to contribute to successful surgical and health maintenance results. As importantly, checklists help medical teams avoid repeating mistakes. In his book Gawande carries this research into other fields, including aviation, construction, finance, and retail.
Some important points in the book include:
- Heroic action is often less the ability to improvise and more the ability to follow a standard and proven series of procedures, especially in team environments.
- Failures need to be investigated thoroughly to understand the underlying causes and test remedies, and checklists provide an effective mechanism for distributing valid remedies across enterprises and industries.
- Checklists provide a method of sharing authority, and work best when everyone on a team has the right to challenge a leader should the leader deviate from the checklist.
Too much work in many fields gets done without identifying standard procedures, easily codified in checklists. This lack of diligence creates unnecessary rework, wasted time and additional costs. Aviation and increasingly medicine are embracing checklists because not doing so costs lives. But the negative consequences of ‘seat of the pants’ approaches shouldn’t be so dire for people to begin to experiment with how standard work and checklists can make life easier and work more effective.
Even simple routines can benefit from checklists. On a personal note, I use a checklist to make sure I have all my expenses submitted for expense reports. The original checklist included all the possible expenses, such as air tickets, hotel, car rental, mileage, parking and so forth. I still experienced several failures in that despite scanning receipts for expenses I failed to attach the receipts to the electronically filed expense report. The solution? I added “Attach Receipts” to the checklist.
The Checklist Manifesto is recommended reading. An even firmer recommendation is that you test what you learn as and after you read the book.