Category Archives: Dr. Atul Gawande

What is the power of a checklist?

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check list

Have you read Dr. Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto? This is a book certainly worth checking out, and it can usually be found at a reasonable rate. The world is catching on that following a list of instructions (a procedure) in hand, even if it is simplified which checklists should be, adds consistency when fatigued or distracted, and most importantly reduces overall opportunities for error. In my opinion the thing a checklist protects you against the most is from errors of omission. As a Human Performance Practitioner, one of my trademark phrases is, “use it when it matters the most.”  This can apply to any of the standard human performance tools, but it also applies to using checklists. If the situation has no governing document, draw up a simple checklist, get some concurrence from others, and then proceed checking items off as they are completed – not as a supplement to other procedures or instructions, but as a companion to ensure everything was completed in the overall order prescribed.

A reminder of your training

If you went to a class on using Microsoft Excel two years ago, and you have recently been tasked with developing a new spreadsheet for your supervisor and you don’t normally use Excel for anything, what do you do? My favorite reminders for popular training like in this example come from the web, or from YouTube for some just-in-time refresher.  Sometimes the instructor who taught the class will give you a companion job-aid to remind you of the things you need to know for future use.  This job aid acts similarly to a checklist in that it provides you with just-in-time reminders of everything you need to remember before progressing into a task. In the nuclear power world many tasks are already proceduralized based on the task being complicated or certain commitments must be performed a certain way, but there is still room for checklists.  A Pre-Job Briefing sheet is a pretty consistent checklist that worker and supervisors use all the time.

How can a checklist help us be successful every day?

I had an Engineer friend in CT who kept a sticky-note list in his car of all the things he needed every time he drove to work. I thought it was a bit of overkill, but he allowed himself to be unburdened every time he drove out of his driveway – meaning that he never wondered if he forgot something. Checklists reveal themselves to be much more impactful for intense situations where you may not be thinking straight because of circumstances, but you can still refer to a checklist in an emergency to ensure you have not forgotten something. Great human performance is about having a plan.

Grading performance

I recently started some new online classes and was instantly reminded of the checklists Professors use when explaining precisely how they want your essay to look.  They also offer a rubric describing how you will be graded for each element – this is an extremely useful tool for a student and it helps clear up any confusion about what the end product should look like.

More books and links

If you find that you like Dr. Gawande’s writing style, he has another book I would also recommend called, Complications. By the way, my commitment to anyone reading this blog is to only recommend books I have in my library. I encourage my coworkers to borrow from the “Newman Library” from time to time – more on my personal library and book recommendations in the future. You can click here to find out what Dr. Oz has to say about checklists and here for another quick video on the power of checklists. Check it off; I mean check it out.