A few weeks ago one of my colleagues mentioned 'The Checklist Manifesto' by Atul Gawande. I've just gone from a very pared down life of travel to a complicated existence of living between two cities (Vancouver and San Francisco), trying to furnish an entire apartment and taking on a job that is both exciting and complex.
I've always liked making lists. There's something incredibly satisfying about writing out goals and then checking them off one by one. Gawande is a surgeon and one of the ways he manages the complexities of surgery is to create simple checklists that remind him of the simple and complex tasks he needs to perform.
Instead of being about micromanaging process, Gawande sees the checklist as a way to decentralize control. Checklists give people the tools they need to go out and do their jobs - it enables organizations to decentralize power and leaves people with the freedom to make progress doing good work.
Some of my bookmarks:
Checklists remind us of the minimum necessary steps and make them explicit. They not only offer the possibility of verification but also instill a kind of discipline of higher performance. p. 36
You push the power of decision making out to the periphery and away from the center. You give people the room to adapt, based on their experience and expertise. All you ask is that they talk to one another and take responsibility. p. 73
The real lesson is that under conditions of true complexity -- where the knowledge required exceeds that of any individual and unpredictability reigns -- efforts to dictate every step from the center will fail. People need room to act and adapt. Yet they cannot succeed as isolated individuals, either -- that is anarchy. Instead, they require a seemingly contradictory mix of freedom and expectation -- expectation to coordinate, for example, and also to measure progress toward common goals. p. 79
Under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success. There must always be room for judgment, but judgment aided -- and even enhanced -- by procedure. p.79
Image: A Checklist for Checklists by Atul Gawande. Download the PDF.