The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

The Checklist Manifesto

By: Atul Gawande

Reviewed by: Shelby Brown

The Premise:

The Checklist Manifesto had been on my reading list for a while. As someone who thrives on process, I was immediately excited by the title alone (call me crazy!). After diving in and reading Atul Gawande’s book, my eyes were opened to the art of possibility that a checklist can provide – and quickly learned that this book would appeal to the non-process lovers as well. This book is all about simplifying the complexity of our lives – with a list.
Gawande starts the book with a riveting true story that takes place in the emergency wing of the hospital. A man who appeared to have only minor injuries is left in the waiting room, only to be found shortly after with now life-threatening conditions. It’s revealed later that although there was a check-in process at the emergency admittance, each person attending to the victim forgot to ask how the man received his injury. When they later asked how, it was then they understood how the injury was indeed life-threatening. It was this one simple question that saved the man, but if it wasn’t asked, could have killed him. Gawande goes on to share that a surgical checklist from the World Health Organization is now used in over twenty countries and is considered “the biggest clinical invention in 30 years”. The decrease in hospital deaths after instituting these checklists is outstanding – a phenomenal increase in improvement.
Throughout the book, Gawande shares how to the world that we know today has given us so much “know-how”. But with so much “know-how” comes complexity and with complexity comes error and failure. He gives examples of the plague of failure in almost every organization from government to health care to finance. Even though in today’s world we are more specialized, using more advanced technologies and training for longer durations of time, the margin for error is still increasingly high. Through stories and compelling arguments, Atul Gawande illustrates what checklists can do – and can’t do, and shows with real-life examples as to just how big of a difference they can make.

The Bottom-line:

Gawande shows how a simple checklist can highlight just how complex our lives have gotten. Atul highlights how we can be better by instituting simple methods, like the checklist. There is room for improvement everywhere, and there is an effective way to execute these improvements and keep consistency with a simple checklist. Needless to say, we’ve started to institute some checklists of our own here at The Roundtable.


Whether you are a process lover or not, this book has practical takeaways and fascinating facts that are useful for anyone, in any industry. From healthcare to finance, we can all benefit from process – and a checklist!

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