Checklists

One of the main duties I performed as a consultant was kicking off a project for a new client. The process went by many different names. Iteration zero, project kickoff, inception, and QuickStart. Sometimes a combination of them.

The thing I learned right away was that there was always plenty to think about and set up. All projects are different of course, but all projects are also the same in many ways. So, I began to do what I always do in a new situation and make a checklist.

I learned this skill a long time ago and it has served me well in many different ways. To my clients, I seem to have a super memory and intellect. Combining the checklist with GTD helps greatly. To my colleagues, I can share the list and get feedback and improvements for my own projects and help theirs. Now on with how to create your checklist.

First, I almost never start from scratch. I look to those who have done it before and have learned lessons the hard way. Nobody is smart enough to think of everything, and besides, why duplicate work? Look to retrospectives, post mortems, project wrap ups, lessons learned, bug reports, lawsuits (yep…), API versions, forums, email lists, etc. Anything where people are seeing 20/20 after something went well or, more importantly, something went wrong. Put it all on the list without filtering. If you don’t have stuff written down somewhere, try interviewing people and listen to their war stories. You’ll learn some good lessons. Write. Them. Down.

Second, once you have your list, try organizing it by rough topics: architecture, project management, QA, analysis, client relations, contracts, etc. This is a good time to take the list to your coworkers and ask them to fill in areas that you’ve missed. The important thing to remember is to keep things on the list unless they are incorrect. This list is for all projects, not just “your” project.

After you’ve created your checklist, put it somewhere it can be seen and used as well as collaborated on. A wiki is great for this because you can have multiple editors and you’ll get to see all of the versions. Tell people where it is and have them use it. Asking for feedback on how it works is a great way to get them to use it. They’ll improve things and add new items as they come up.

At this point, you’re probably expecting an example or even full version of my checklist. Sorry. That would rob you of the experience of creating it yourself which is well worth your time in just the collaboration alone.

Initially, people will complain that your checklist is too long. Ignore them. Explain that the checklist is there to keep them safe and spending a 30 seconds or a minute on each item on the checklist will save them loads of time and mistakes later.

One last thing. The checklist is a great tool to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything, but it isn’t a substitute for critical thinking. The checklist will help you to not look dumb, but you still have to be smart. Good luck.

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