The Checklist Manifesto

by Atul Gawande

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: February 23, 2024
 3 min read
The Checklist Manifesto
The Checklist Manifesto

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What are the big ideas?

  1. Checklists are crucial for handling complex tasks because they help ensure nothing important is missed.
  2. Missing even a small detail can have big consequences, so focusing on every step matters a lot.
  3. In places like hospitals, checklists have really helped professionals do their jobs well and more uniformly.
  4. For difficult or complex tasks, checklists are super important to make sure all necessary steps are covered.
  5. A well-made checklist is brief and straightforward, highlighting key tasks without overwhelming with too much information.


The Role of Knowledge and Checklists in Managing Complexity

  • “The volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably.”
  • “Checklists seem to provide protection against such failures. They remind us of the minimum necessary steps and make them explicit.”

The Crucial Importance of Attention to Detail

  • “Whether running to the store to buy ingredients for a cake, preparing an airplane for takeoff, or evaluating a sick person in the hospital, if you miss just one key thing, you might as well not have made the effort at all.”
  • “A further difficulty, just as insidious, is that people can lull themselves into skipping steps even when they remember them.”

Enhancing Performance and Care with Checklists

  • “The researchers found that simply having the doctors and nurses in the ICU create their own checklists for what they thought should be done each day improved the consistency of care.”
  • “Pronovost found checklists established a higher standard of baseline performance.”

Checklists in Complex Problem-Solving

  • “Under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success.”
  • “Three different kinds of problems in the world: the simple, the complicated, and the complex.”

Effective Checklist Design and Implementation

  • “When you’re making a checklist, Boorman explained, you have a number of key decisions.”
  • “The checklist cannot be lengthy. A rule of thumb some use is to keep it to between five and nine items, which is the limit of working memory.”
  • “It is common to misconceive how checklists function in complex lines of work. They are not comprehensive how-to guides.”


  1. How do checklists help in managing the complexity and vast amount of knowledge we encounter in various tasks?
  2. Why is it important to pay attention to every detail, especially in critical tasks like healthcare or aviation?
  3. In what ways can skipping steps, even known ones, impact the outcome of a task or project?
  4. How have checklists been proven to improve performance and care in settings like intensive care units?
  5. What are the key factors to consider when creating an effective checklist for complex tasks?
  6. Why is it important to understand that checklists are aids for experts, not comprehensive guides for every step in complex processes?

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