'The Checklist Manifesto,' A Review

I recently finished The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, and the short version of the review is this: you should read it.

For those few still reading, I'll go into a little more detail about the book. Atul Gawande is an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical school. I thought this book was the first thing by Gawande I've read, but I discovered while researching this review that Gawande also wrote a very highly-regarded piece in the New Yorker about why medical costs are out of control in the United States. I liked that piece very much, and was tickled to learn the same author wrote "The Checklist Manifesto."

Gawande starts by establishing the need for checklists by discussing the things that can go wrong in surgery, even with highly competent, intelligent, and motivated teams of people. He makes the point very well that when things get complicated enough, no human has the capacity to work well without checklists. He then goes into the benefits we can get from creating and using checklists correctly, and talks about techniques for making useful, effective checklists that people will actually use.

The book is full of real examples of problems and solving those problems through checklists, not only from the world of medicine but from construction, aviation, and other realms. "The Checklist Manifesto" is entertaining and easy to read, but also very useful. I was already very much a believer in checklists; this book didn't do anything to increase my use of checklists. (Although it did increase my confidence in insisting that I and others at my company use checklists regularly.)

Where this book really shined, at least for me, was in the sections on how to write effective checklists. It's easy to produce well-meaning checklists that are overwhelmingly large, vague, or otherwise impossible to use in a timely manner. "The Checklist Manifesto" gave me practical tips and techniques to use, based mostly on how aviation checklist are made, to create my own practical and useful checklists. The only quibble that I have with the book, and it's a minor one, is the heavy emphasis in it on medical examples. I suppose that's inevitable (and excusable), given the author's profession. Even though I intend to use these tips in a software development environment, rather than an operating theater, they're general enough that I think I'll be able to do that. Highly recommended.