I love a business book. I’ve got shelves full of them, and nowadays a jam packed Kindle with lots of interesting ideas for business. Here’s one of my favourites. The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande.
What it’s all about
Atul is a surgeon, and was given the task of finding ways of reducing post operative complications in hospitals. Absolutely nothing to do with running a small business, you might think.
Except that I’ve used the ideas in this book over and over again, in my own business and with my business advice clients.
In brief, Atul is writing about how to use the simple checklist to help manage incredibly complex situations, such as diagnosing what’s going on with a patient with loads of different conditions, emergencies in the operating theatre, building very tall buildings, and flying aeroplanes.
Now, the work we do within our businesses might not be quite as dramatic as open heart surgery, but even the smallest business owner has to manage complexity every day. We have to decide what our priorities are, look after clients, pay attention to our sales pipeline, see what people are saying on twitter, manage our marketing…and that’s before you even get down to doing the work. Our poor little brains are often fried from all of these different things we have to think about.
Which is where the checklist idea comes in. I’ve written checklists for what to do when I get a new client, the basics I need to go over with a client so I don’t miss something or assume that their accountant has taken care of it, and a checklist for getting funding for clients to be able to pay me. I’ve got a checklist to run through when I leave the house in the morning (keys, office keys, phone, reading glasses, purse).
This might sound completely daft, but it reassures me, and makes sure that I don’t leave without my essentials, and not have cash for lunch or be able to see the computer.
The Checklist Manifesto for staff
The Checklist Manifesto also talks a lot about using checklists in a group situation, which I’d never thought of before.
From Atul’s research into applying checklists in operating theatres, I’ve taken away two rules which I’ve helped clients write checklists for their staff. The first is that the checklist needs to be written down, and gone through at a regular time. I did this with a cafe client, so they did a checklist which the staff had to physically tick off on a laminated sheet for all the things that need to do when they opened the cafe in the morning. It meant that all the things that were annoying the cafe owner (such as the sugar bowls not being topped up, or people forgetting to put the A-board out) started getting done.
And the second thing I took away from The Checklist Manifesto was that people need to go through the checklist together, and make sure that someone had done all of the things. And this really rang true to me, when I started applying it. We all assume that someone else will have done that task. But maybe the person who normally does the invoices is on holiday. Or we think that someone else has sent out the contract to the client.
By going through the checklist together, we make sure that everything is covered and we’re jointly taking responsibility for making sure that we do a really good job.
Read it. Apply it.
I can’t do justice here to all of things you can learn from The Checklist Manifesto. But it’s an inspiring read, and I heartily recommend that you get it, read it, and put it into action. You might not be saving lives with your checklists, but you will be making huge improvements to your business processes. Here’s where to buy Atul’s book on Amazon.
I liked The Checklist Manifesto so much I read Atul’s later book, On Mortality. This isn’t so much a business book, but it’s about something which affects all of us, the challenges of how we treat people (including ourselves) when we’re coming to the end of our lives and dying. It was an intensely moving book, and gave me much to think about – the kind of book which stays with you for a long time.
It also gave me some very interesting potential business ideas I’m rolling into my New Business Ideas Collection. I heartily recommend On Mortality as well.