Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Checklists Reconsidered

So I've ordered Atul Gawande's The Checklist Manifesto (Amazon). In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal's review disagrees with his approach to applying checklists to most things (WSJ):

In fact, many aspects of modern life suffer from too many checklists. Teachers, for example, are shackled to lists and protocols that prevent them from doing their jobs properly (e.g., disciplining students). Complying with the requirements of due process—a kind of legal checklist intended to protect against abuses of police power—has corroded the authority of teachers to maintain basic standards of order and respect. [...]

Accomplishment is personal. That's why giving people the freedom to take responsibility is so important. Organizational techniques can be useful—we all rely on checklists informally—but formal protocols can disrupt focus and undermine success in many life activities. Dr. Gawande is right to note that checklists are indispensable in situations where a small mistake can lead to tragic consequences, as in surgery. But his call for a broad checklist regime would be counterproductive—fraught with all the dangers of bureaucracy and excessive law.
I get the sense though that where consistency is important and where similar problems arise with a known series of outcomes, using checklists is a good approach. However, ineffective checklists as outlined by the WSJ, may not be a question of a problem with checklists but rather what's in the checklists and how they get applied... but at least that's what I'm thinking for now. I'm looking forward to getting and reading the book and will, with luck and time, draft a summary of it to post.

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