Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Review: The Checklist Manifesto

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things RightThe Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great!  I knew when I saw Dr. Gawande on TV talking about this book that I couldn't wait to read it.  And am I ever glad I did!  Such a simple device, the checklist.  But too often it is overlooked, ignored, even maligned.  Sometimes the solutions to the problems we face are right under our noses... Time to stop resisting!

Click here to download my two-page summary.

For the last couple of years I have been working with a client organization who hired me to facilitate a series of management team meetings as they redeveloped their policy and procedure handbook.  What to leave in and what to leave out has been the perpetual discussion.  At what point does descriptive narrative meant to train new employees become oppressive to those who must implement management's directives?  Is it possible to be the kind of manager who defines desired outcomes and leaves the "how to" part to staff - and still be in compliance with the federal, state, and local laws governing this particular client's activities?  It's been a fine line.

Enter The Checklist.  It's all the stuff people have to remember (and no one can remember everything about today's complex jobs no matter how long-serving) without stifling creativity or crushing personal motivation. The nearly 200 pages of The Checklist Manifesto are entertaining as well as informative.  Gawande has provided a robust analysis of the value of a simple checklist that is compelling and memorable.  From surgery, to skyscraper building, to the steps involved in posting a blog, we all benefit from writing it down.  Whatever the investment of time required to create a checklist on the front end of a task can be reimbursed a hundred fold by the time and effort saved correcting problems on the back end. 

A good checklist can saves lives, too.  Dr. Gawande and his colleagues at the World Health Organization are proving it.  Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who famously landed the airplane on the Hudson River in January 2009, gladly acknowledges that he and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles used an emergency checklist to avoid disaster and save the lives of 155 people that day.  They had training and experience, yes, but no one on earth could have remembered what to do in the few seconds they had to decide what steps they needed to keep that plane from crashing.  Their experience provided the discipline to run the list and their training taught them how to do what was there.  But it was the list that prompted the right actions. What better argument can there be?

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