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Ask yourself: would you be willing to fly in an airplane flown by a pilot who relies on his or her “memory and track record” rather than a detailed and time-tested checklist? I wouldn’t.
The deeper question is: if checklists are perfect and indispensable for flying airplanes safely and reliably, then why don’t we use checklists in other areas of life like, let’s say, in operating rooms?
That’s the question Dr. Atul Gawande of Harvard University asked himself and provided the answers in his intriguing book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
I’m much taken by this work because I’m a big time believer in checklists. I honestly think a checklist is one of the most important technical documents ever written and the humble checklist deserves all our respect and attention. Someday our lives may be spared thanks to an unassuming checklist written by a nameless techncial writer who did her job right long before her product was needed.
In my own line work, I start every documentation project with a Documentation Plan, which is in essence nothing but a detailed collection of checklists about collecting the data about the document, writing the document, having the document reviewed, etc.
Dr. Gawande reports that even the simple checklist item of “getting to know the names of the operating team” before the operation starts and taking care of a few other similar “basic items” improve the operation results by over 30%! Amazing isn’t it?
Here is what Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this book: “Gawande begins by making a distinction between errors of ignorance (mistakes we make because we don’t know enough), and errors of ineptitude (mistakes we made because we don’t make proper use of what we know). Failure in the modern world, he writes, is really about the second of these errors, and he walks us through a series of examples from medicine showing how the routine tasks of surgeons have now become so incredibly complicated that mistakes of one kind or another are virtually inevitable: it’s just too easy for an otherwise competent doctor to miss a step, or forget to ask a key question or, in the stress and pressure of the moment, to fail to plan properly for every eventuality. Gawande then visits with pilots and the people who build skyscrapers and comes back with a solution. Experts need checklists–literally–written guides that walk them through the key steps in any complex procedure. In the last section of the book, Gawande shows how his research team has taken this idea, developed a safe surgery checklist, and applied it around the world, with staggering success.”
An interesting read. Recommended for all technical communicators.