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Checklists in Finance and Airlines

At the risk of being a total fan-boy for Atul Gawande's 'The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right' (book and ebook), I want to point readers to this extract published in The Financial Times.

It covers a VC that uses checklists to get better results when selecting investments, and a dramatic description of the checklist use during the US Airways flight 1549 flight where Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III did an emergency landing in the Hudson river.

Three favorite quotes:

On resistance to checklists:
The truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not have protocols and checklists. Maybe our idea of heroism needs updating.
On fear that checklists lead to bureaucracy:
People fear rigidity if they adhere to protocol. They imagine mindless automatons, heads down in a checklist, incapable of looking out of their windscreen and coping with the real world in front of them. But what you find, when a checklist is well made, is exactly the opposite. The checklist gets the dumb stuff out of the way.

On other people's reaction:
People have been intensely interested in what he's been buying and how, but the minute the word "checklist" comes out of his mouth, they disappear.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Checklists

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In my speaking and writing I always encourage people to automate what they can and document what you can't. If something can't be automated (or isn't worth automating) writing a bullet list of the steps to accomplish the task makes... Read More

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I don't see improvisation and checklists as being mutually exclusive. You need to handle the dumb bog-standard stuff reliably and the checklist gives you a way to encode knowledge, encourage discipline & attention to detail, plus it provides an audit trail.

Improvisational skills are vital when you need to go 'off script.' It's not simply a matter of flying by the seat of one's pants or being a cowboy, it's about situational awareness and having the mental flexibility to not lock up in unfamiliar situations.

Improvisation is a defense against paralysis and panic, but it's no substitute for due diligence. The truth is, part of creating reliable and secure systems is reducing the amount of improvisation needed. The key is avoiding the avoidable crises and being flexible enough to improvise through the unavoidable ones.

Thank you for the post. (And for your blog).

Continually refining our checklists over the past decade is probably the smartest thing we have done. They serve to capture hard won experience and pass it on less experienced staff. After every deployment (1 or N servers) we go through 7 checklists (service obligations, support obligations, monitoring event-response pairs, back-ups, unplanned outage procedures, planned outage procedures, reports)

Surprisingly people tend to stay away from wanting to use these lists because they think they are too smart for such things. A few learn over time.

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