The freelance checklist

I've been doing quite a bit of reading recently, first up was: Thinking, fast and slow; a wonderful insight into how people think, and how humans make decisions in everyday life. The second was: The checklist manifesto - a fascinating read about the power of the humble checklist in the world of aviation, medicine, and construction.

The whole book is centred around whether or not surgical/medical complications can be reduced or mitigated by the introduction of a checklist, much like a pre-flight checklist a pilot runs through before takeoff, only it's before surgery, or before a standard procedure.

The examples given are incredible, and I'm not using that word lightly; one example shows how the introduction of a checklist before placing a central line (tube that delivers medicine/fluids into the body) helped to cut quarterly infection rates in multiple intensive care units to nearly zero.

The key, which may seem obvious, is that a checklist forces the user to remember key points in a process. The book puts it best:

"[Checklists] provide a kind of cognitive net. They catch mental flaws inherent in all of us- flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness."

Throughout the book, I kept wondering if the checklist could be applied to the world of design, or perhaps to freelancing in general. One thing I kept going over in my head was how many times have I said to myself; "I should have known better" - starting a project without getting an initial deposit for example, or not running the client through what happens when the project runs over.

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that a pre-flight checklist for freelance projects makes sense. Let's take payments for example, usually, I work on a 50/50 basis with clients - 50% upfront and 50% on completion of the project. Now, on a couple of occasions I've sent across an invoice at the start of the project only to be thrown into a loop of emails with a finance department about purchase order numbers, client job numbers, bank details and so on. All of this taking up extra time that was previously allocated to the project because it's something I should have prepared for before starting the project. Something which could've been avoided if I'd remembered to check what the payment process is for the company.

Another key point the book looks into is communication. Across all fields, be it medicine, construction, or aviation, it is increased communication that seems to solve the most problems. Examples in the book show how the introduction of a checklist helped increase communication between different groups involved in a project, something the design world could definitely use more of.

A first attempt at a pre-project checklist

This is going to take some refining, but here's what I have so far:

  1. Has the client agreed, in writing, to the statement of work?
  2. Has the client agreed, in writing, to the procedure for project changes?
  3. Have payment terms been discussed and agreed to in writing?
  4. Has the initial payment been received?
  5. Does the client require any additional information in order to pay an invoice?
  6. Does the client require the finished work in any specific file formats?

At the moment I'm still digesting the book, I think a good pre-project checklist will take time to compile and it's something I'm going to be thinking more about in the coming months.

If you're a freelancer or a designer, or a project manager, or anyone involved in a design project, I'd love to get your thoughts on what pre-project checks should be in place. What are some common problems we're all facing from project to project. Let me know via twitter: @tedavis, perhaps use the hashtag: #freelancechecklist so it's easy to track!

Freelance Motion graphics