Book Review – “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande

I had earlier read two engrossing books by Atul Gawande – Complications and Better. So when I saw The Checklist Manifesto while browsing in the neighborhood library, I decided to pick it up looking forward to an interesting read (some reviewers had strongly recommended it). The title also indicated that it may a good book to review for this weblog.

Well, I was partially right – it was suitable to post a review on this blog. So, here goes…

The main theme of the book/ book summary is as follows:

  • Over the years, many activities have become extremely complex.
  • Even experts struggle to master and remember all the tasks they have to perform.
  • Use of checklists can minimize human errors of oversight. In many cases this it can improve the performance significantly.
  • Use of checklists can also help the experts focus on the difficult, tricky parts of a situation, rather than worry about the mundane activities.
  • There is need to create better checklists, organize them for easy use and ensure that they are used.

The author uses examples from multiple industries and situations. The best ones are from hospitals and medical emergencies (Dr Gawande is a surgeon :-)). There are other examples from the airline industry (where pilots use checklists for normal as well as abnormal situations), construction industry, retail, and restaurants.

There is a whole chapter dedicated to research where the impact of the use of checklists in hospitals was studied. The research showed that there was a significant reduction in deaths (47% reduction) and major complications (36% reduction) for surgical patients. One interesting finding was that though only 80% of the hospital staff found the checklists useful, 93% of them said they would want a checklist to be used if they were themselves getting operated!

The book sometimes extends the concept of “checklist” beyond its normal usage. Here are a few examples of things that are treated under the concept of checklist in the book (though I believe they are different concepts, with their own place in “how to get things right”):

  • Preparing detailed project plans, dependencies, action items, schedules and list of deliverables (example of a building construction project)
  • Use of collaboration meetings (of experts) to handle non-routine situations (e.g., a building floor developing unforeseen problems)
  • Empowerment for doing something extraordinary (how Wal-Mart employees went beyond their formal authority to help people affected by Hurricane Katrina)
  • Use of focus, expertise and wits (how a pilot saved lives by crash landing on Hudson river in 2009 – by focusing on flying the plane, not on using a checklist!)

In trying to bring everything under the umbrella of “checklists”, the author dilutes the concept and utility of checklists as well as other equally important concepts of detailed planning, collaboration, empowerment, dedication, competence and focus. Maybe the title “The Process Manifesto” would have been more apt.

For people who are already convinced about the use of checklists, procedures, plans, collaboration meetings, etc., this book can provide you with interesting examples to relate to process skeptics in your organization. It can also provide process trainers with interesting case studies to relate to the class. You may also consider gifting this book to colleagues who resist the use of formal processes – the book is an easy read and is able to hold the reader’s attention reasonably well.

If you are looking for readymade checklists that will help you reach some level in CMMI®/ People CMM®, then this book is not for you :-).

Those who have read Gawande’s earlier books – Complications and Better may find The Checklist Manifesto a bit disappointing – it is not as engrossing as the earlier two. This is possibly because the earlier books focused primarily on hospitals, medicine and healthcare based scenarios, where Gawande has accumulated loads of experience. And in Checklist, he provides examples from other industries (aircraft manufacture, real estate, retail stores, restaurants, and so on) where he may not have had the same level of familiarity and insight.

Here are some details of the book, in case you want to get your hands on it:

By the way, you DON’T need a Kindle device to read a Kindle ebook.

Book Cover ImageBook Title: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

Author: Atul Gawande

ISBN-10: 1846683130

ISBN-13: 978-1846683138

Publishing Date: Jan 2010

Publisher: Profile Books

Available at: Amazon.com, Amazon.in, and Flipkart

Available as eBook in Amazon Kindle.

By the way, you DON’T need a Kindle device to read a Kindle ebook.

Other book reviews uploaded on the same blog:


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here. To get email alerts for new posts, click here to subscribe.

17 thoughts on “Book Review – “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande”

  1. Writing a book around checklists must have taken some imagination. Your review has aroused my curiosity about the book. Will check this out in a book store.

    I personally use checklists in many of my routine or non routine activities in day to day life.

    For non routine activities, I create checklists “Just in time”, when I am conceptualizing my plan of action.

    And find this habit saves lots of re-work and regret later.

    Keeping the checklists updated for newer scenarios so as to keep them relevant, has also helped.

    Will check out the book to scout for more tips.

  2. Interesting review. Yes, like Prakash says, it makes the potential buyer more curious on how Atul has managed to write a book on Checklists!

  3. Here you go….sharing my own checklist for Travel….(more appropriate for International travels). Yup there is an IP around this…and whoever wishes to borrow, steal, copy either in its entirety or in parts thereof, needs to make a mention of my copyright during every usage.

    1. Travel kit- passport, visa, forex, forex cards, tickets, web checkin (just in case you get late), frequent flyer miles card for travel updates
    2. Professional accessories ( laptop, power cord, power chargers appropriate for the country, visiting cards, tie/coat/blazer, pen drive, handy note pads….)
    3. Personal accessories (shoe, ironed clothes-primary and buffers, brushing and shaving stuff, sweaters..); check on local weather conditions.
    4. Very personal accessories (this part of the IP:) cannot be shared:)
    5. Consultant’s tool kit (samples to be shared, reuse material, ready references, backup presentation slides)
    6. Noting gate of flight takeoff, location (esp. during mid night travels, if you plan to take a quick nap at the airport)
    7. Making sure I am boarding the right bus that takes me to the right flight within the airport(you dont want to land up in another country; incase folk at the airport slip up on checking)…with Murphy’s laws, you never know
    8. Making sure I am picking my own laptop at the security check.
    9. Setting the watch to the local time upon landing (it would look silly, to land hours earlier or later at a client office:)
    10. Map and Address of client location , the hotel location(including local language translation,contact numbers), check for travel distance and fare estimates (use wide band delphi..ask couple of people at the hotel and people who have traveled there earlier)
    11. Adequate local currency, in right mix of denominations, practicing how to count currency:)
    12. Key words from the local language (numbers- 5, 10, 20, 30..till 100 useful for taxi travel, frequently used words- good morning, responses to “how are you” kind of questions, alternate combination of words to communicate “I am a VEGETARIAN” and that INCLUDES “No Fish, no egg, no meat”!
    13. Location of restaurants serving vegetarian fare (mostly Indian), contact numbers, maps
    14. Location of supermarkets near the hotel
    15. Local places to visit and the optimum way to cover them (in case the visit includes a weekend stayover)
    16. Remembering “not to forget” 🙂 and pack all that i brought into the hotel, during departure (plus pick up the pen and small notepad they keep in hotel rooms, they always come handy!)
    17. remembering to take back the passport from the hotel reception, converting local currency back to USD at the airport

    18. Updating the checklists with new experiences (readying for the next travel to the same client/same country)

    Then, ofcourse, since there are is so much stuff to do:—————–

    A (master) checklist of all checklists:) and making sure it is stored in a place where I can retrieve easily 🙂

  4. The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande is simply the most wonderful book on the power of checklists. And your review rocks. Keep it up Rajesh!

  5. Checklists, in my opinion, has been wrongly understood by many and abused…! People tend to think, nothing beyond checklist points are required, the fact is the points in Checklists are ‘bare-minimum’, anything beyond is only good…!

    Atul’s guts to write a book on Checklists, tells his courage and creativity…! With literally no time to read, Rajesh’s review gives good insight to such exceptional editions…!

    Attn Rajesh: When is your next book coming up…!? We are eager…!

  6. Nice one Rajesh, i like reading your blogs – i have seen this book in the neighbour hood library but brushed it aside. Reading your review, i will probably lend it and read it.

    Sesh

  7. Surprised to know about a book on checklists. The thought itself creates interest. Your review made it all the more interesting – to see non IT world as most of these can be mapped to real life scenarios by most of us.

    Thanks Rajesh for the review and getting me connected with such a book.

    Regards,
    Venkat

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *