Tackling Freelance Projects Like a Software Developer

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Have you heard about the trend of standing room only meetings? Instead of having a team sit around a conference table, they’re made to stand up for short meetings instead.

The trend is becoming prevalent in tech companies, and is meant to eliminate long, boring meetings where no one pays attention. Some companies have even instituted a penalty for being late to a meeting—either through sheer humiliation or a small fee.

If someone is rambling on for too long, an employee may hold up a rubber rat indicating it is time to move on. Companies make exceptions to their no-sitting rules if a worker is sick, injured or pregnant—but usually not for workers outside the office telecommuting on Skype. —wsj.com

The trend is fueled by an approach to software development called “Agile”, which calls for compressing development projects into short pieces. It also includes daily stand-up meetings where everyone can update everyone else with what they are currently working on and any obstacles that stand in their way.

I think it’s brilliant! I immediately started wondering how I could incorporate this way of thinking into my freelance life. I took a look at the Agile Manifesto and sought to translate it into something freelancers could use. Here’s my attempt:

Agile: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
: Our highest priority is to satisfy our clients through timely delivery of high quality work.

Agile: Welcome changing requirements, even late in  development. Agile processes harness change for  the customer’s competitive advantage.
Freelance: Welcome challenging requirements, even on deadline.

Agile: Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
Freelance: Communicate frequently with your client throughout the lifespan of the project.

Agile: Working software is the primary measure of progress.
Freelance: Satisfied clients are the primary measure of progress.

Agile: At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
Freelance: After each project, deduce what worked and what didn’t, and figure out how you can improve upon it for the next assignment.

What I like about Agile is that these software developers compress their large development projects into short pieces, which is how I like to work on large projects.

Having a gigantic project in front of you can be overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you manage everything you have to do? Depending on your area of expertise, the answers can be very different. For a writer, however, here’s how I break it down.

Assignment: Write a 2,500 word piece on xyz.

  • Step 1: Do some research on xyz on my computer. Find out who the major players are and who I should interview.
  • Step 2: Make contact with the people I would like to interview and schedule a time to talk, either over the phone or in person.
  • Step 3: Develop a list of questions to ask in my interview based on prior research. Depending on who the person is, I will email them some questions ahead of time. If I am looking for specific statistics, I always ask for them ahead of time.
  • Step 4: Conduct interviews.
  • Step 5: Start constructing the story.
  • Step 6: If I am in charge of getting photographs (which I sometimes am) I choose a photographer and send them the first draft of the story to read over. Send them ideas for photos and send them the contact information for who they need to work with to get the photos.
  • Step 7: Finalize story and send it to the editor.
  • Step 8: Create invoice and send it to the appropriate person.

Throughout the process, I shoot my editor an email or give them a quick phone call to let them know how it’s going. I also let them know if I am having a problem contacting anyone, as sometimes the editor of the publication can open doors for me that I can’t.

I try not to move on to the next step until I have completed the previous step. Sometimes this doesn’t happen, especially if I am working with a photographer. But I try to control my work flow so that it follows a logical order. I never start writing a story until I have all the information I need. When I have done this in the past, it has just created more work for me because, essentially, I wrote the same piece twice. I like to be as efficient as possible.

Of course, if you are a photographer or graphic designer, your work flow will look different. But if you can break it down into stages, tackling a big project won’t be so daunting, and you can mark your progress along the way.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by tomgowanlock.

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