How many of us have heard of, or read, or God forbid experienced errors in hospitals where arguably the most educated among us still make mistakes. Seemingly egregious mistakes of amputating the wrong limb, or leaving utensils within a patient, or even worse.

Now, many hospitals practice physically writing in permanent marker on the limb to perform surgery for the surgeons. Nurses are asked to check, double-check, and then have a separate individual check, and double-check; all before the surgeon must do the same.

The Checklist Manifesto

This led to a natural progression to adoption of literal checklists in hospitals and healthcare at large, which leads rather naturally to The Checklist Manifesto.

The truth of the matter is, checklists work. They work so well in fact that it matters not how intelligent, well trained, or practiced you are, they work every single time. Michael Jordan famously missed thousands of shots; Babe Ruth struck out many times; malpractice insurance exists because unfortunately even the best surgeons in the world make mistakes; and even Google software makes mistakes while training new employees.

Checklists however, never fail.

My teams recently went through an arduous, painful project of building an integral billing and credit accounting system for our biotechnology software, and when it came time to release to the universe, I requested we adopt a seemingly archaic process of literally creating a to-do list of all the things necessary from notifying customers via email, to merging code, to pressing a button in Jenkins, and everything in between.

In the end, as expected we identified several things we needed to address, simplify, or add as we blatantly forgot. The final result however, was a very tight, rock-solid process that we could delegate across the team in a very systematic way that has resulted in one of the smoothest software releases I have witnessed in well over 15 years of software development.


Here is my checklist to anyone who happens to read this and be interested:

  1. Read The Checklist Manifesto
  2. Think about how your processes can be simplified to tasks on a checklist.
  3. Consider carefully the order of operations required for said tasks.
  4. Ask as many people as possible to review the checklist before you do any work.
  5. Involve at least one "customer" if possible; certainly at a minimum your internal customer representative.
  6. Delegate and parallelize as much of the work as possible.
  7. Follow through and update the master list with progress so visibility is shared.