Book Review : The Checklist Manifesto

The checklist manifesto attributes routine success and predictability to following checklists. Whether it’s remembering all your items before leaving the house, preparing for a medical exam, or cooking a meal, checklists organize, prevent us from missing details, give people confidence, and can spark conversation.

Today, we know more than ever but we still fail. The amount of what we need to know to be successful is overwhelming. It’s easy to miss a detail. Checklists remind us of details we often miss – even in routine work.

This book made me realize that most of what we do in our lives is routine. I look at a lot of pull requests during the day – I keep a mental checklist of common things that I need to remember – retain cycles, comments, unit test coverage, passes static analysis, etc. If I had a checklist for all of these issues, I’d probably make fewer mistakes benicar 20 mg. Better yet, following the checklist would get me upset I had to follow a checklist and I’d probably write a script to pass the checklist. Win, win, win.

I realized that I run thru a lot checklists in my head (what I need to do today, for example) – why not write it down!

I read this book in a few afternoons. I thought it was verbose. It could have been condensed down considerably. For example, I appreciate that he, a doctor, took examples from various other industries to prove his point. The background was great. I thought his examples could have been discussed in a few pages rather than chapters.

A year from now, looking back at this book, the main point I’m going to remember is this : checklists help you follow procedure, keep your routine strict, and allow you to mentally focus on the real problem without having to worry about simple mistakes. Oh yeah, and I’ll probably write a few more things down.

One thing that wasn’t in the book, but I think is interesting, is that checklists give your brain a feeling of success. Even if the first thing on your list is trivial, like “make your bed”, checking it off the list gives you a small sense of accomplishment and puts your day on a path to success.

Why do we fail?

  • ignorance – we don’t know.
  • ineptitude – fail to apply what we know.

Why Checklists?

  • Improve teams.
  • Improve communication. In face of the unknown and complex, trust in the power of communication.
  • In complex situations with multiple experts, its critical to have them talk and sign off as a team.
  • Remember simple, repeatable, but critical details better.
  • Personal reasons : improve diligence. Diligence fosters success. People, by default, are not diligent.
  • Checklists need to make sure the stupid but critical stuff is done but also ensure people communicate and coordinate to solve complex problems.
  • Checklists help with simple problems, can aide in complicated problems which can be decomposed into simple problems.
  • Checklists establish a higher standard of baseline performance.

How Checklists?

  • Keep the points simple, effective and to the point. They should help, not distract people from solving the problem.
  • Add steps for communication or “sign off” from all specialists involved. This pushes responsibility to the edges, to where it belongs. Putting control into a central authority (master builder) is not effective. It puts too much responsibility on the central authority, who doesn’t have the depth of knowledge that the specialists at the edges have. 
  • Checklists must be “real world” tested. The first version will always need editing. 
  • Review results. Why do projects / things fail? People don’t like to talk about failure. 

Adoption of Checklists:

  • Checklists are politically or culturally hard to introduce, especially when teams are established.
  • Checklists invite protocol, people reject protocol by thinking experience is better.
  • Keep them focused around a goal, not introducing process. 

Examples:

  • Construction : Improves communication. Avoids “Master builder” – the people responsible for their specialty remain responsible. Checklists foster communication by establishing hand off points.
  • Restaurant : Recipes ensure quality. Team “pow wow” ensures team is on the same page prior to opening.
  • Aviation : Accidents / crashes are reviewed and distilled into checklists. 
  • Health : Reduce accidents in the heat of the moment.
  • Crisis : Government failed to respond to Katrina. Not enough power at the edges. Empower people at the edges of a complex problem.

Action Items:

  • Ensure your workflow process (git, unit tests, etc) follows a checklist for quality.
  • Automate as much of the process as you can. Focus on communication about the product, not the process. The process should get out of the way and allow the team to talk about the product.
  • Effective teamwork is the ultimate goal. Use checklists to clearly define process, lay out communication points.

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