Checklist Manifesto – Summary & Key Points

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In 1935, at the Wright Field in Ohio, the Army Air Force held a tryout among aircraft companies for its new bomber. Boeing entered its B-17. The plane was a complicated one and even though the pilot was highly trained and experienced after the plane took off, it stalled, crashed and burst into flames. This was all due to a simple routine step that had been forgotten. Due to this tragedy, pilots began to adopt the use of checklists and the Checklist Manifesto.

What is needed, however, isn’t just that people working together be nice to each other. It is discipline… We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.Atul Gawande

Atul Gawande, a public health researcher and surgeon, used this, as well as other case studies to make the argument for checklist use in a myriad of other fields. Gawande published a book in 2009, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. The non-fiction book discussed how the medical professions and the business world could significantly benefit from the implementation of checklists. His biggest defenses for this implementation were the improved safety, consistency, and efficiency that could be created. Outside of these three potential advantages, Gawande’s book provides some other interesting arguments for the use of checklists in business.

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Checklist Manifesto – Creativity And Discipline

Checklists provide the ability the be more disciplined and more creative. This sounds like a weird combination, but it’s true. Humans aren’t good at discipline. It isn’t natural so we have to make an effort if we want to improve. And it is essential to improve discipline because without it things can go very, very wrong. If a pilot forgets to flip a switch, lives are at stake. The same goes for a doctor who forgets to wash his hands. In business, money, and reputation is at stake.

If a development team forgets to run a test, they can release a product that malfunctions and loses company customers and profits. If discipline, through a checklist, is adhered to, things tend to go right. People don’t have to think about each and every step. The steps are spelled out. By taking these little yet essential pieces of information off of your mind, you are able to concentrate on other things, stretch your mind and be much more creative.

Communication And Teamwork

The simple act of individuals introducing themselves to each other improves their ability to work as a team. People feel more comfortable speaking when they know names. And this communication and teamwork are essential for the problem-solving process. If something goes wrong in an operating room, the attending, resident, interns, and nurses need to be able to work together. When a business is setting up a marketing campaign, the team needs to know who is in charge and who is responsible for the various tasks. And if there’s a hitch in the campaign, they need to be able to speak to one another and work out the unplanned developments so that they can move forward and stay on schedule. A checklist reminds teams that they need to emphasize communication because too often people forget that they aren’t just working in a silo.

Success In Complexity

Too often complex procedures are underestimated. This might be because of ego or it might be because of naivety. The cause doesn’t really matter. What does matter is assessing these complexities accurately and acknowledging that steps need to be taken to secure them being carried out effectively. In building construction, the process has grown to be so complex that labor has been specialized. There is no one individual to oversee every task. To ensure that nothing essential is left out, checklists are a necessity.

This goes for business processes too. If a company is developing a new and innovative product, they need to make sure that every aspect of the development, production, and release are spelled out. If something is forgotten, lawsuits can happen, people can get hurt, reputations can be damaged and money can be lost. The most important thing for businesses to accept is that no job is too complex to be broken down into a checklist. Yes, every new project is different and unique. They often require thinking on your feet and adapting and altering a process, but this under no circumstances indicates that a checklist is pointless. A checklist serves as a safety net that provides better outcomes. If an adjustment needs to be made, that doesn’t make the checklist erroneous.

How To Create A Good Checklist

Not all checklists are created equally. It takes a little bit of effort and consideration to put together a checklist that will really make a difference in business practices.

Gawande used a section of his book to provide some key guidelines for developing a list that will be useful:

  • Keep The Checklist Simple And Short: When every single little detail of every step is laid out, it makes the checklist too bulky. It also turns into micromanagement. The team needs to have some wiggle room to get creative. When there’s not, their brains turn off and they become disengaged. The main goal of a checklist is to prevent accidents and mistakes. Slim down the checklist to the bare necessities. It is a guideline, not an instruction manual.
  • Use Different Types Of Checks For Different Needs: Critical tasks need different checks than complex tasks. Task checks, such as setting up regular testing for software code, should be applied to critical aspects of a project. These are the aspects that could easily slip a team member’s mind but could make a big difference if forgotten about. For more complex areas of a project, it can be a good idea to set up communication checks. This means that if there’s an area of a project that is expected to have potential setbacks, collaboration is key. It helps to remind people that while they are responsible for a task, they aren’t working in isolation.
  • Checklists Can Be Used For Learning And For Reminding: If you have an expert working on a project, their checklist should really just be used to confirm that they are completing each step. However, for someone with limited experience, a checklist can be used as a learning tool. This individual should read through the checklist first and then use it to guide them through the process as they move along. Sometimes it can be a good idea to create both types of checklist if you have both novices and experts working on a project.
  • Test And Adjust: It is rare to get a checklist perfect for the first time around. Develop a checklist, put it into action, and observe its success. Evaluate which steps are confusing or redundant. You can fix these as you work your way through the list.

Every business has regular processes that they need to go through on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. With busy schedules, tight deadlines, heavy client loads, and the stresses of daily life, little steps and tasks can be left out and forgotten about. Sometimes they can be easily corrected. But sometimes they can’t. To help maintain a streamlined, disciplined process it is essential to implement effective checklists.

Did you find the content above helpful? Do you feel like something is missing? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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One thought on “Checklist Manifesto – Summary & Key Points


  1. Thank you for this quick summary. Heard about this book from another book I was listening to, and wanted to quickly get to know what it’s about, and this did a great job of that.

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