Using Checklists

22 April, 2012


This weekend I read Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto.

A fantastic argument supporting the use of simple, albeit unromantic, checklists as a means to “getting things right” in any profession or endeavor, particularly where complexity can become like the devil in the details. His exploration begins with his own profession–surgery, but he quickly admits that his checklist strategy is courtesy of the aviation industry. Pilots have used careful checklists for decades now punctuated with “pause points” before starting engines, before pulling away from gates, and before taxiing, as well as a stable of micro checklists to help manage almost any in-flight problem that could arise.

There are good checklists and bad…Bad checklists are vague and imprecise. They are too long; they are hard to use; they are impractical. They are made by desk jockeys with no awareness of the situations in which they are to deployed. They treat the people using the tools as dumb and try to spell out every single step. They turn people’s brains off rather than turn them on.

Good checklists, on the other hand, are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use in even the most difficult situations. They do not try and spell out everything–a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps–the ones that even the highly skilled professionals using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.

Gawande gives so many beneficial examples of industries using checklists, that I can’t help but see the potential benefits for my own. In some cases, the improvements in outcomes from the deployment of checklists is astounding.

At the back of the book, as well as on his website, Gawnde gives samples of a few of the checklists mentioned in the book as well as a checklist on how to create a good checklist. Useful resources.

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