Mark Seemann's Reviews > The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
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really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read 2 times. Last read August 24, 2019.

As many American popular science books, The Checklist Manifesto starts with a sequence of stories designed to illustrate a point, or an aspect of an overall theme. After a few chapters with stories, but light on actionable content with a degree of detail that would enable me to extrapolate, I was slightly disappointed.

As the text progressed, however, I found it more inspiring. The stories kept coming, but I also felt that there was enough information in the text that I could begin to see how to apply some of the ideas in my own field of work.

Atul Gawande is a surgeon, so many of the illustrative anecdotes are about surgeries, or other parts of medicine. He does, however, also look at other industries, but not mine.

The theme of the book is how simple checklists empower skilled professionals, like airplane pilots. When a task is complex, it's almost inevitable that you forget to consider a thing or two. A checklist helps you focus on the hard parts of your task by taking your mind off the trivial things. You don't have to make an effort to remember to do all the trivial things; you just have to remember to refer to the checklist at various pause points.

It's important to understand that the type of checklist the book discusses is supposed to enable, support, and free practitioners. They're not there to monitor or audit. The power of these checklists is that you use them in the situation - not that they leave any trail of evidence. Perhaps the most powerful lists are those that specifically don't leave any audit trail. These could simply be lists on a wall poster, a clipboard, in a ring binder, or similar.

My area of work is software development, and that's as complex as surgery or piloting an airplane. Software defects are legio, but I think that a lot could be avoided with a more methodological approach to the work.

Checklists are not intended to constrain experts, but rather to improve results. As one of the author's informers put it:
"When surgeons make sure to wash their hands or to talk to everyone on the team" - he'd seen the surgery checklist - "they improve their outcomes with no increase in skill. That's what we are doing when we use the checklist."
That's a wonderful way to put it, I find:

Improve the outcome with no increase in skill.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
Started Reading
August 24, 2019 – Shelved
August 24, 2019 – Shelved as: non-fiction
August 24, 2019 – Finished Reading

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