A Checklist Can (Literally) Save Your Life

The Checklist ManifestoThe Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right is a new book with a fresh view on on the lowly checklist–its practicality and usefulness for not only routine tasks, but also for highly complex situations like building skyscapers and operating on people.

Written by Boston surgeon Dr. Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto takes us on a journey to save lives by using checklists. Dr. Gawande headed an initiative with the World Health Organization to figure out how to reduce the number of deaths occuring from avoidable mistakes made during surgery. The problem: What could they do to save lives, yet be relevant for diverse surgical procedures in any country or language, and cost next to nothing to implement? The solution: A checklist.

Gawande and his team developed a practical, life-saving checklist easily adapted for use in operating rooms anywhere in the world, under any conditions. The results since the WHO issued Gawande’s checklist are in: Thousands of lives saved and unnecessary suffering prevented for many thousands more.

In his quest to create an effective checklist, Gawande sought out best practices from major building companies to airline manufacturers. Among the gems in the book is advice from Daniel Boorman of Boeing Company.

Boeing’s tips for creating an effective checklist:

  1. Define a clear pause point when the checklist will be used.
  2. Decide whether the list is READ-DO (read and performed in order, like a recipe), or DO-CONFIRM (perform tasks from memory, but at a pause point, run the checklist to make sure everything was done).
  3. Identify only the most critical and important steps–don’t try to list everything, five to nine items is a good rule of thumb.
  4. Use words that are simple and exact.
  5. Format the list so it fits on one page, is free of clutter and unnecessary colors, and uses upper and lower case.

Those who yearn for examples of checklists will not find them in this relatively short (209 page) but excellent book. Dr. Gawande takes the 30,000 foot view. However, the book provides more than enough clues and inspiration to guide you in creating your own effective (and life-saving!) checklists.

The Checklist Manifesto (Amazon)

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