What is the best way to improve the quality of your actions? According to the author of the book The Checklist Manifesto, it's with checklists.
A few months ago, a friend wrote a blog article about how her memory began to fail her. Another friend commented that she wrote a checklist to avoid forgetting anything before a commit, after having read The Checklist Manifesto. Another passion of mine is airplanes. In the aviation world, there are checklists for everything. I was curious what this book could say about this subject so I read it.
While reading the book was pleasant, if the author talked only about checklists, I think it could have been only one chapter. The other things he wrote about are communications and sharing—or spreading—responsibilities. These topics are also very important but out of the scope in my opinion.
Atul Gawande (the author) is a surgeon, so obviously he talks about surgery but not only. For instance, he talks about how aviation and construction firms started using checklists, who writes them, and what they cover.
But why make checklists? The author explains that over the last centuries we have learned many many things, but we sometimes fail at doing them. Checklists are there to lower our fail rate. They also help to be faster and more methodical.
Checklists don't improve our skills, they improve results. They are guards against basic errors and oversights.
That sounds good, doesn't it? So how does one a do a good checklist? The author gives a rule of thumb. The checklist must:
- be between 5 and 9 elements—it should take between 60 and 90 seconds to complete
- have a clear pause point i.e. when to go through the checklist
- be short and precise, they're not a how-to
- have a publication date and be occasionally revised
Atul Gawande lists two kinds of checklist:
- do-confirm: you do your stuff and once you think you're good, you go through the checklist to verify you didn't forget anything
- read-do: you do what the checklist says you have to do while reading it
Checklists can be done during team briefing and it has the added benefit that it improves communication among the team.
I liked this book and if you're curious about stories behind checklists, you should definitely read it!