Book review: “The Checklist Manifesto”

Before I tell you more about “The Checklist Manifesto” written by Atuwal Gawande, a US-based surgeon, I feel I need to make a confession: I LOVE check and to do lists. The Checklist Manifesto therefore felt like the right book for me to read since it explains the role and value of checklists. In this book, Gawande makes it clear that checklists potentially to all kinds of professions, whether you’re a surgeon or a greengrocer. These are the main things that I leaned from reading The Checklist Manifesto:

  1. Why checklists? – As individuals, the volume and complexity of the know-how that we carry around in our heads or (personal) systems is increasingly becoming unmanageable. Gawande points out that it’s becoming very hard for individuals to deliver the benefits of their know-how correctly. We therefore need a strategy for overcoming (human) failure. One the one hand this strategy needs to build on people’s experience and take advantage of their knowledge. On the other hand, however, this strategy needs to take into account human inadequacies. Checklists act as a very useful as part of this strategy.
  2. What makes a good checklist? – Gawande stresses that the checklist can’t be lengthy. A rule of thumb that some people use is to have between 5 to 9 items on a checklist in order to keep things manageable. The book contain some good real-life examples of how people go about starting their checklists. For example, looking at lessons learned from previous projects or the errors known to occur at any point.
  3. How to use a checklist – I believe that the key thing to bear in mind when using checklists is that they aren’t supposed to tell you what to do. As the book explains, a checklist isn’t a magic formula. Instead, having a checklist helps you at every step of the way, making sure you’ve got all the crucial info or data required at each step. Also, a checklist is a critical communication tool, as it outlines who you need to talk to (and why, what about) at each step of the way. Gawande also highlights the value of the ‘discipline’ that comes with having a checklist, the routine that’s involved in having a checklist. I’d add to this that a checklist can be a great way of identifying and mitigating risk upfront.

Main learning point: It may sound obvious to some, but having a checklist helps to get more control over projects or processes as well as learn from past mistakes or learnings. “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atuwal Gawanda provides a good insight into how checklists can be used effectively, using a wide palette of real-life examples to illustrate the value of having a solid checklist in place and using it continuously.


Checklist Manifesto

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