The Checklist Manifesto

Atul Gawande

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Highlights from July 26, 2021

  • The second type of failure the philosophers call ineptitude—because in these instances the knowledge exists, yet we fail to apply it correctly. (Location 116)
    • Note: We have the know how, yet we fail to apply it correctly to the situation. Or we hve the knowledge but lack the understanding that it is applicable in the current situation.
  • the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably. Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us. (Location 181)
    • Note: Burdened by knowledge is an interesting thought. In that we know so much or have so much information available to us that we cannot decide what if any of it is useful. This almost makes the case for the zettelkasten as a method for storing and indexing our personal knowledgebase.
  • Multiple fields, in other words, have become too much airplane for one person to fly. (Location 430)
    • Note: Take lesson from the history of the B17, when a process becomes too much for one person to retain in memory a checklist can be introduced.
  • Faulty memory and distraction are a particular danger in what engineers call all-or-none processes: whether running to the store to buy ingredients for a cake, preparing an airplane for takeoff, or evaluating a sick person in the hospital, if you miss just one key thing, you might as well not have made the effort at all. (Location 447)
    • Note: This also holds true for botched software deployments. Missing one tiny step can ruin an entire rollout. Because what exactly is a software deploy but a set of steps that need completingin a certain order. Or a checklist.
  • Checklists seem to provide protection against such failures. They remind us of the minimum necessary steps and make them explicit. They not only offer the possibility of verification but also instill a kind of discipline of higher performance. (Location 453)
    • Note: Checklists can prevent failure. Do i set the environment variable before or after pushing code? The checklist makes this knowledge explicit and puts it at the forefront of thougt when completing the task at hand.
  • The philosophy is that you push the power of decision making out to the periphery and away from the center. You give people the room to adapt, based on their experience and expertise. All you ask is that they talk to one another and take responsibility. That is what works. (Location 910)
    • Note: This feels very famiar to the concepts in Turn TheShip Around. Push the criticl decisions down to those at the levels with the most expertise.
  • Good checklists, on the other hand, are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything—a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps—the ones that even the highly skilled professionals using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical. (Location 1512)
    • Note: Don’t Spell out every step. Be prctical.
  • The checklist cannot be lengthy. A rule of thumb some use is to keep it to between five and nine items, which is the limit of working memory. (Location 1550)
    • Note: Can this be a master checklist of checklists in the case of a complex task?
  • The wording should be simple and exact, Boorman went on, and use the familiar language of the profession. Even the look of the checklist matters. Ideally, it should fit on one page. It should be free of clutter and unnecessary colors. It should use both uppercase and lowercase text for ease of reading. (He went so far as to recommend using a sans serif type like Helvetica.) (Location 1557)
  • 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. (Location 1619)
    • Note: So then a deploy checklist need only list things at a high level?
  • An inherent tension exists between brevity and effectiveness. (Location 1727)
    • Note: How short is too short? How long is too long?