The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande: Summary and Notes

the checklist manifesto summary book cover

“It is common to misconceive how checklists function in complex lines of work. They are not comprehensive how-to guides, whether for building a skyscraper or getting a plane out of trouble. They are quick and simple tools aimed to buttress the skills of expert professionals.”

Rating: 6/10

Related: Better, Complications

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The Checklist Manifesto Short Summary

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande is a book that champions the use of checklists as a tool for improved performance. Gawande takes the reader through a journey that details how checklists work, the role they play, and why they are needed in surgical rooms, cockpits, construction sites, and even in company boardrooms.  A well-written text on the power of checklists.

What Is a Checklist?

A checklist is a performance tool and a job aid that is used to reduce failure by compensating for limits in human memory.

The first checklist was created to aid in the flying of the Boeing Model 299 during the Second World War. Ever since, checklists have been used as an aid to solving complex problems in many different areas.

Some of the places that rely on checklists include hospitals, construction sites, and investment firms. When used in hospitals, especially during surgery, checklists have been shown to reduce errors by as much as 47%. It is a testament to how effective they are as job aid tools.

Why Use Checklists?

We live in an increasingly complex world. The average professional is expected to know more than is sometimes humanly possible. This places a great burden on the individual and increases the likelihood that mistakes are going to happen.

At the same time, the era of the general practitioner is now gone. It is teams and not the individual that deliver results. For smooth operations, there needs to be a common reference point. That reference point is often a checklist.

Checklists help with memory recalls and clearly set out the minimum necessary steps in a process.  As such, they are not complex how-to guides. They are simple tools that are aimed at complementing the skills of professionals.

“Under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success.” 

The Characteristic of a Good Checklist

What makes a good checklist? The following are qualities of a good checklist:

  • Precise. A good checklist has clarity and is to the point
  • Short and practical. A checklist with too many steps can be confusing. 5 to 9 items are ideal
  • Free of clutter and colorful words. Checklists should use familiar language
  • Provides reminders for the most important steps. A checklist is not a how-to guide but just a reminder

To learn how to use checklists in your work and life, read: How to Make Checklists: The Ultimate Tool to Save Time (With Examples)