The Checklist Manifesto

I just finished reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande which is an intriguing book that makes the case that any discipline can be improved with the use of checklists.

Gawande is a surgeon, so most of his examples are in the medical field and he has the statistical research to back up his claim that a simple checklist can save lives. (This book will make you think about some things before going into a hospital!) But he also draws from the fields of finance, construction and aviation to make his point that complex changing disciplines can benefit from checklists. It certainly made me think about how the businesses I know could benefit from checklists – including my own!

Now what he calls checklists, I would call systems. They are a written series of steps taken to complete part of a job. And the point is to follow these steps every time you do that job. Examples in small business could be a sales process, sales script, marketing campaign, the process in which orders are taken, phones are answered, employees are hired and trained, etc. We know that systematizing things will lead to greater efficiency, happiness and profit. Yet there is always resistance to doing this.

Gawande explores this human resistance to checklists. He points out that we just don’t like them. They are not fun; they’re painstaking. And they are embarrassing. It somehow feels beneath us to use a checklist and it runs counter to our deeply held beliefs about how truly great people work on their own. People fear rigidity and working as mindless automatons. But it is actually the opposite! Systematizing certain processes frees up your brain to think about other things, allowing more creative problem solving to occur.

Every business I know can benefit from systematizing certain procedures, but it is not a smooth process to change over to. It means embracing a culture of teamwork and discipline. And discipline is hard! Having a system in place can help make priorities clearer and can prompt people to function better as a team. But people must be trained in how to use them.

Here are some points from the book about writing a checklist. Use simple, exact working and keep the list short by focusing on the most overlooked and most detrimental steps to skip. The list must be precise, efficient, to the point and easy to use. And it must be practical! Keep it free of clutter and unnecessary colors. And make sure there are communication check points on the list so teams talk to each other. First drafts will almost always need to be revised and rewritten. Test it, change it, and test it again.

Creating good systems takes time up front, but will lead to increased efficiency with fewer mistakes and this will lead to increased profitability in the long run. If you need more convincing about the impact a system can have, I strongly recommend reading this book, The Checklist Manifesto!

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