Book Review: The Checklist Manifesto

I saw The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande ($15 @ Amazon) at the bookstore and had to read it. I’ve used a few checklists over the years, short ones and long ones, the longer ones perhaps stretching the definition and being more of a standard operating procedure (SOP) type document.

The main setting for the book is a hospital and talks about trying to reduce surgical errors and infection rates. One of the interesting tidbits from this is that administering an anti-biotic within 60 minutes of the first incision causes a huge reduction in the chances of post op infection. Even if delivered 30 seconds prior, it still works. Yet, things would happen, the start of surgery would be delayed, and it wouldn’t get done.

Checklists are a simple idea, that turn out to be harder to implement. They have to be specific, but not overly detailed. They have to be crystal clear about who is responsible for doing and checking on items on the list.

The author says (and I agree) that many people don’t like checklists, thinking they take the knowledge/skill out of a task, and uses the example of flying an airplane, where checklists add obvious value, and obviously don’t matter it possible for a non-pilot to just jump up front and fly. There’s also a great story in there about one particular checklist has step #1 as ‘FLY THE PLANE’, because they had figured out that in this situation pilots tended to get buried in fixing the problem…and stopped flying the plane.

I’m going to read this again, and look at places at work where using this will help me. I really recommend this book. It’s not just the idea of checklists, it’s about how to get them to work. Powerful stuff.

One thought on “Book Review: The Checklist Manifesto

  1. I haven’t read this book myself but it has gotten a lot of good reviews and is referenced in many HBR blog posts. I think I might have caught his interview on the Daily Show – amazing that something as simple as a checklist can be so transformative. I use checklists for things such as things to do ahead of a SQL Server install, post server setup such as creation of backup/maintenance jobs, configuration settings, setting up db mail… Also use a pre-release checklist that I template and use for every release cycle which includes tasks such as final test of automated release script execution on a latest production copy database, scheduling pre-release backups, steps to perform (if any) on replicated copies. Checklists combined with Outlook tasks/reminders help me minimize the possibility of missing something important and make repetitive processes more efficient.

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