The Checklist Manifesto

Anyone who’s worked with me should know how much I love a good system, so I was just a little bit excited when Angela handed me a copy of The Checklist Manefesto by Atul Gawande. She reviewed this insightful book on this blog back in April, covering its vital message that checklists should only include the most important and often-missed points in a process.

But this book goes even further in discussing the system around the checklist: how to make sure it gets used and how it handles unexpected situations. Fascinating stuff, if you ask me!

Let’s break it down…

[ ] Define a point in the process where the checklist will be reviewed.

Ok, so the items are all concise and unambiguous. Only the most vital steps need to be checked off. We’re just missing one thing: when does somebody look at the list??

A checklist must have a defined point in the process to be reviewed. This is either when the steps are performed or checked that they’ve been performed. (This depends on how complicated those steps are, of course.)

[ ] Give responsibility of checking the list to just one person.

And preferably not the person running the show!

This spreads responsibility off the head honcho (increasing the likelihood that other members of the team will speak up about problems) but still leaves a single person to remember the checklist (so nobody can say “I thought someone else would bring it up!”).

[ ] Incorporate communication into the process itself to handle the unexpected.

A checklist can’t tell you what to do when the totally unexpected happens, but Gawande described the inspiring process the construction industry uses to deal with these situations. So what does a tiler do when he discovers aliens have ruined his levels and it’ll add at least an extra day to his time?

He tells someone.

Processes should include specific communication points where key people get together and talk about their progress and any problems. A free discussion format allows for anything to be brought up and dealt with, much more easily than in the strict task hierarchy of a project management tool. These times should be scheduled in regularly as part of the timeline, regardless of whether anyone thinks there’s something to talk about or not.

Eventually, there will be.

Combine simple checks with scheduled get-togethers to cover the important but forgettable as well as the unexpected and complicated.

I was relieved and excited to discover that we’d already covered this last major point in our Communications Schedules, which specify daily and weekly touch points with our clients during their projects!

Great lessons? Check. Fascinating stories & anecdotes? Check!

Everyone loves a good medical story and this book is full of them (the author is a surgeon, after all, and this is his story of making checklists work in the operating theatre).

Do you have a great checklist process or juicy horror stories? Write the next “checklist manifesto” or… at least tell all below.