program evaluation

The Checklist Itself Doesn’t Matter

Anyone who understands systems will know immediately that optimizing parts is not a good route to system excellence.…We connect the engine of a Ferrari, the brakes of a Porsche, the suspension of a BMW, the body of a Volvo. What we get, of course, is nothing close to a great car; we get a pile of very expensive junk.” – Chapter 8.

I just finished reading Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto, which was first published in 2009 and spent some well-deserved time on the New York Times Bestseller List. Written by an attending general surgeon at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, this book tells the admittedly “unsexy” story of how a simple tool such as a checklist can improve the quality and consistency of outcomes in a wide range of fields: aviation, building construction, venture capital, and (even) medicine. All of these fields are complex systems – involving many moving pieces and players, and an inherent unpredictability of conditions, materials, personnel, and complications. In addition, these arenas assume a certain level of skill and require a high standard of consistency and safety, but errors and complications still plague us. We have reached a point in many fields where the problem isn’t ignorance (we do understand a lot about the world around us) but rather ineptitude (we fail to apply the knowledge that we have consistently and correctly). A checklist can help us improve our “eptitude.”

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