Do I need checklists?

Checklists have their place for everyone. It is not always sufficient to rely on your memory.

Cover of "The Checklist Manifesto: How to...
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Just read Atul Gawande‘s ‘The Checklist Manifesto – how to get things right’. Thanks to Brian Dunnion for suggesting reading the book.

The answer is a resounding – YES.  I do need checklists.  And the author would suggest we all need checklists.

I found the book particularly interesting in that he references examples in which I have some direct experience: healthcare, construction/ engineering and finance/accounting.  The other key area referenced is air travel (use of checklists by pilots).

Gawande is a surgeon who has had direct involvement in development and implementation of checklists in theatres – to be used by the surgery teams.  Much of his learning about what makes for a good checklist is centered on what he learned from Daniel Boorman of Boeing – detailed in a fascinating chapter ‘The Checklist Factory’.  He provides lots of detail on the background to a checklist he developed in working with the World Health Organisation (‘WHO’).  And he deals with the change management challenges in seeking to have the same adopted across the globe.

In discussing the application of checklists Gawande introduces a method of categorising problems between Simple, Complicated and Complex (Brenda Zimmerman and Sholom Glouberman). In demonstrating the application of checklists in complex areas he provides a number of examples from the construction industry in the US.

In closing Gawande provides some of the detail re the Hudson river landing by US Airways 1549 in January 2009. Gawande profiles Sullenberger and Skiles as heroes – because they followed process and followed checklists e.g. in spite of their vast experience as two pilots they had gone through all the proper checklists before taking off, they did follow the checklists when the birds struck.

And finally he provides an example of how he believes checklists have benefited his patients in surgery in the last number of years.

All of us bring our experience, our training and our skills to the jobs we do.  But when we are distracted, working under pressure, faced with unexpected happenings, effective, relevant checklists can make the difference between success and failure.




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