One thing I can promise you, after reading this book you’ll never have a medical procedure without first asking the doctor about their “check list” …just take my word for it. This is one of my favorite books, The Checklist Manifesto How to get things Right. The author, Atul Gawanda, is a surgeon and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. This book was so meaningful that I have bought quite a few copies for my friends and associates.
So what does this have to do with Boeing? Just keep reading.
In 1935 at Wright Patterson air field in Dayton, Ohio the US Army held a flight competition for the next generation of long-range bombers. Boeing was assumed to be the winner since they showed up with an aluminum alloy plane that could carry five times as many bombs and fly twice as far as the Army spec had required. There was a potential order for 65 or more of the winning aircraft, the Boeing entry was dubbed the “flying fortress” because of its size. So on that October day as all the executives and Army brass watched, the 103 foot wingspan plane with 4 engines, taxied down the runway, climbed to 300 feet, stalled and crashed. Two of the five crew members died including the pilot.
The investigation revealed that there was nothing mechanically wrong with the advanced plane; it was “pilot error”. The new plane had tons of new features and the newspapers said it was “too much plane for one man to fly”. Maybe the plane needed a few more pilots and more training ….. not really. This plane became one of the most successful planes ever used in combat logging over 1.8 million without a single accident; it was called the B-17 “Flying Fortress” and was in instrumental in the Second World War.
The only thing that Boeing did to successfully fly the B-17 was develop a pre-flight checklist. Keep in mind that even in 1935, asking a pilot to use a check list would be like asking you and me to use a “back the car out of the driveway checklist”. No good pilot would ever use one, why should they, they already knew how to fly. With the Pilot’s checklist being used the Army ended up buying almost 13,000 of these planes that were deemed “too much plane for one man to fly”. So what might have been on the checklist, dumb stuff like flip this switch, check this gauge, close the window, release the brakes. Not a single item on the checklist was difficult or beyond what all pilots thought they did everyday on every flight. Even today not a single military or commercial flight takes off without the pilot and co-pilot going through the pre-flight checklist, as dumb as it might sound. Why, even simple mistakes and oversights can have a very large impact, like the crash of the first Boeing B-17 test plane.
In addition The Checklist Manifesto points out many other real life examples of doctors, hospitals, and architects that use checklists of simple everyday tasks that in fact save lives or costs lives when not followed.
All businesses and many of things we do in our lives can benefit from the lessons learned in the Boeing B-17 story above. We all work on simple, complicated or complex matters all the time and many times simple things that get overlooked have huge consequences.
Airline Company’s today have extensive checklist to handle every possible contingency. An emergency onboard a flight, the engine flames-out, the pilot immediately grabs the huge catalog, looks for the checklist on engine flame-out and follows the process exactly. Why is this different in a law firm, it isn’t.
Just as a side note: not only did I buy The Checklist Manifesto for many of my past employees; they took it on themselves to begin using checklists within my former business. They had checklists for dozens of everyday processes; they too just don’t want to make mistakes that effected customers.