News and thoughts from CS Odessa, maker of the ConceptDraw product line: ConceptDraw PRO, ConceptDraw PROJECT and ConceptDraw MINDMAP.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Checklist Manifesto

Have you read Atul Gawande's "The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right"? Gawande writes about the how we humans--including those among us who spend decades training, practicing, applying our skills--are no match for the complexity of the modern world. But we think we are. And when we think that way, mistakes are sure to happen.

Gawande is a very highly respected surgeon and a brilliant writer (he's published numerous books on this general topic, and is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker). He traces mistakes to two basic problems. First, ignorance: We simply might not know enough. Second, we're inept: We know, but we might not always apply what we know correctly.

His solution to massive complexity: the simple checklist, and offers startling examples of the improvements checklists have had in medical outcomes. But he says that checklists can be used in all kinds of endeavors. (It reminds me of another overwhelmingly simple response to complexity--the Geek PDA).

One of the best uses of mind mapping for project management I've ever seen is in project post mortems. You list all of the things that went wrong in the project, and ways you might improve or avoid them next time. Then, when you start the next project, copy and paste those lessons onto your new project map. Your mistakes are right there in front of you as you plan the new path ahead.

Gawande is clear that there are no grand checklists: life is complex. Few things in life can be reduced to repeatable processes. But maybe some things can. Are there things you do over and over again that might benefit from a simple checklist? By letting go of the notion that we are smart enough, experienced enough to manage the complexity of our work (and maybe our lives), we might all experience greater success.


  1. I just finished reading The Checklist Manifest last night as a potential solution to long and complicated procedures for managing compliance with environmental regulations. I'm going to use the suggestions by Gawande to create a one page "checklist" that will be in front of the procedure so that folks who have to do the actions can refer to the procedure in a more leisurely fashion as a reference, rather than attempting to dig through the whole thing to find the important nuggets that are crucial to their work.

  2. A small step for mankind! :o) I just got my team here at my company to accept a checklist to follow when writing for search engine optimization. It's very odd how much people bristle at the thought of having to follow a checklist. Far from restricting individual freedom, checklists just make it easier to pay attention to the most important things...