Book review: The Checklist Manifesto

New employees receive The Checklist Manifesto as part of a welcome pack at Jack Dorsey’s company Square. So, I had a feeling it would be good and it didn’t disappoint.

The book is about how checklists help get things right, more often. But it’s more than just a book about checklists. There is some great advice on execution in general, and how to ensure smooth communication in complex situations.

What’s particularly interesting it’s not just about making sure basic stuff gets done right. It also covers how best to deal with the unforeseen that will inevitably crop up.

If you’re an organiser, it’s great food for thought and a reminder of the foundations of a well run project. If you’re someone who isn’t good at organising, you’ll find some of the uses of checklists super useful.

It’s a very easy read and I highly recommend it.

Notes / Highlights:

  • Good checklists are normally precise, efficient and easy to use — even in the most difficult situations. They don’t try and spell everything out. They focus on the most critical and important steps.
  • Some rules for checklists: They shouldn’t be lengthy — maybe 5–10 items. They are best when they fit onto one page. Use clear and concise wording. They should be free of clutter and unnecessary colours. Use both uppercase and lowercase and a sensible font.
  • Two different types of checklists — DO-CONFIRM and DO-READ. It’s worth considering which is appropriate for each situation.
  • DO-CONFIRM — people do their jobs from memory and experience, often separately. But then they pause, and use the checklist to make sure everything that was supposed to be done, was done.
  • DO-READ — people check off the items one by one, much like a recipe.
  • Some people fear the rigidity of checklists But what you find is often the opposite. It gets the dumb stuff out of the way and lets your brain focus on the hard stuff.
  • Checklists help you remain calm and focused when under pressure.
  • Don’t worry if some items on the list feel too basic. If it’s important that they are never missed, they should be there.
  • First drafts always fall apart. Checklists need to be tested and refined, before put into wider use. This isn’t easy.
  • When applied in surgery, they helped catch many mistakes — some of them life saving.
  • It’s easy to get complacent and to forget — or worse, cut corners . This is particularly true when bored or under pressure. Checklists help with this.
  • Checklists can also help ensure that unforeseen things gets fixed quickly. They can contain notes of who needs to meet, when and what to discuss. Making sure that the right people talk and at the right frequency is so important in projects. It’s often key to making sure fires get identified early and put out.
  • Combine the two (getting the mundane stuff right and dealing with unforeseen things) and you will run a better run project.

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