checklist-manifesto Book

In week 5 of re-read of The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande (use the link and buy a copy so you can read along) we tackle Chapter 4, The Idea. In Chapter 4 Gawande shows us how checklists can help push decision-making outward, which empowers teams and makes them more responsive.

For simple routine problems, forcing functions have great appeal.  I put my company badge and car keys in the same place, everyday – check. I put my lunch box in the freezer — check. I am home — check. A simple routine checklist that makes going to work in the morning less complicated. The checklist for routine problems can be spelled out in great detail to precipitate behaviors. That said, not everything we face in day-to-day or business environments is routine.

When confronted with complex, non-routine problems it is important to push the decision-making power out much closer to the work. Pushing decision-making away from the center requires empowering people to act based on their experience and expertise. Checklists are useful for making sure that as you push decision-making outwards that those involved talk to one another and take responsibility.

The author uses the Hurricane Katrina debacle as a illustration of decision-making concentrated at the top of an organisation (public or private) when the lines of communication breakdown. When decision-making is closely held and the communication fails (for whatever reason), decisions simply don’t get made and action stops.  Without pushing things out to the to those doing the work decision just don’t get made. Gawande points out that in complex situations a different kind of solution from the command control paradigm is needed to be more effective. The counterexample to the general failure during Katrina was Walmart’s response. Walmart had a process (checklist) in place to that communicated their specific mission, the level of communication needed and then let people make decisions.  The later was more appropriate for non-routine and complex situations. The lesson is that in complex (unpredictable) situations where the knowledge required exceeds that of any individual, efforts to dictate every step in a command and control fashion will fail.

Gawande points out that in complex situations checklists are required for success however, there must be room for judgment. As Stephen Adams pointed out in a comment to our re-read of Chapter 3: checklists should not replace conscious human thought. An effective checklist combines enough of a forcing mechanism to guide behavior and thought.

Bought your copy?  If not use the following link and support the Dr. Gawande and podcast:  The Checklist Manifesto

Previous Installment:

Week 1 – Approach and Introduction

Week 2 – The Problem With Extreme Complexity

Week 3 – The Checklist