I first read The Checklist Manifesto a few years ago. I have long believed that written checklists is the only way to drive organizational or personal behavior changes. So when I was struggling with making an effective personal checklist, I decided to re-read it. (Finding out that this is Jack Dorsey’s – Square, Twitter – favorite book increased my enthusiasm for the book).
This book is full of surprises. The first surprise is that this is written by Atul Gawande, who is a doctor. It turns out Atul is a great writer who can make a dry subject – such as Checklists – into a lively read. But still I would have guessed that this book and subject matter will be best handled by a business executive because the topic speaks to execution and driving behavior changes, but the fact Atul wrote this is a testimonial to universal applicability of the idea behind checklists.
The second surprise is that Atul is able to marshal cross industry examples in the service of explaining the power of checklists – from medicine to construction to disaster recovery to cooking to music concerts to aviation – the book is filled with great examples of checklists in action. Using these real world examples from different industries Atul is able to demonstrate how checklists can be used to solve complex problems involving several moving parts. Atul uses his own experience of creating a checklist for surgical administration to be used across the globe. He talks about how to create a checklist and attributes that make it effective.
The third surprise was the last chapter about the psychology that makes it hard for a lot of experts in different fields to create and follow a checklist. His insights that sometimes the experts believe that having a checklist somehow takes the romance out of challenging and sophisticated tasks such as valuing a company or making an investment or hiring employees, seem right on the money. It also presents the challenges most individuals and organizations must overcome when implementing checklists. Atul points out that most of the mistakes in complicated endeavors can be linked to somebody skipping an important step from a checklist and that having a checklist and the discipline to follow it religiously will likely increase performance and efficacy dramatically.
Overall this is a light and engaging book that is great for entrepreneurs, software professional or anybody involved in a complex group activity. While this book could have done better with more direction on what makes an effective checklist and even providing some actual actionable checklists to try and imitate, I believe if you take the lessons to heart you are likely going to get incredible rewards. I personally got a great deal out of this book from my second reading. I not only remembered how great a writer Atul is, but I also learned how to make an actionable checklist and was able to apply my learnings successfully to my personal checklist project.