Reasons to have a checklist
close-up look at green pen marking on the check box over white paper

Get a checklist in your life – now!

A review of The Checklist Manifesto

Atul Gawande is one of my favourite writers, admittedly it’s a long list, but Being Mortal fundamentally changed my perception on both living and dying. Whereas Being Mortal changed how I view my personal life, The Checklist Manifesto solidified my love of good process. It is hard to believe that a book solely about checklists could be engaging, but it is. Reading this combined with Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed gives a solid foundation for developing high performing operations.

Who is this book for?

The stories are largely focused on the medical, construction, and aviation industry. But, anyone who works in a team, works under high pressure or makes complex decisions should read The Checklist Manifesto. It is hard to think of a business that wouldn’t benefit from a checklist. Marketing agencies run increasingly complex projects and steps get missed which cause challenges further down the line. Checklists aren’t about appointing blame, but about removing the responsibility to remember every step in a complex process or stressful situation from individuals. Their role becomes about completing the actions and ensuring that decisions are made with the right people at critical moments.

Why The Checklist Manifesto is worth your time

There is nothing more challenging than making something simple. When things work well we rarely take the time to reflect on all the failed versions that must have come before. Gawande takes the reader through the reasons why checklist matter, how to establish one and trouble-shooting failure. It is a great combination of storytelling and practical application.

The reality of a post-pandemic world is that remote working is going to become the norm for most office workers. Having checklists can also smooth the day-to-day operation when teams are working virtually. It is an agreed framework and one that removes misunderstanding and doubt.

In conclusion

This review is short, and that is because all the pages were packed with wisdom. At the end of the book is a ‘checklist for checklists’ to provide practical guidance for checklist creation. The stories are interesting and inspiring. I was gobsmacked to read about the Wal-Mart response to the New Orleans flood. When the flood hit they had 126 closed with over 20,000 displaced employees. They distributed supplies to first responders directly from stores and one manager ran a bulldozer through the store so she could load it up with supplies. The focus from senior management became about communication and support, not micro-management. This meant teams formed and innovative solutions were rapidly found.

The most interesting thing about the Wal-Mart example is how it demonstrates the key to successful leadership (and parenting), a balance between having room to adapt, and expectations around goals. Checklists should focus teams on a common objective and the key tasks that ensure success. However, they should not be so detailed that they stifle thought and expertise.

There are so many examples of checklist applications that if I started to list them all I’d just be copying the book out. This is why it is important to get a copy and think about how the principals could be applied within your workplace.

About Good Words Online

This blog was designed to be a home for all the content I’ve created over the years. It is a mix of book reviews, personal reflections and business learnings. There is no definitive way to live or work, we all make our own choices. I in no way think I am right about any particular subject. This is simply about sharing what I’ve learnt and creating an online reminder for myself.

The name, good words, has no religious references. We can’t be good all the time. Each of us will make mistakes. All we can do is try to learn from them and try and attempt to be a little better next time.

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