Legal Project Management 1.0
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While Project Management as a discipline has had nearly 60 years to mature and develop, the application of PM principles and techniques to the legal environment is still very much in its infancy. Traditional Project Management can be thought of as a stool resting on three iterative and overlapping developmental stages: Planning and Design, Execution, and Monitoring and Controlling. For our purposes in LPM we call the first stage Planning and Budgeting rather than Design. All attorneys believe that they execute, monitor, and control their projects already, but many will concede that they do not plan or budget adequately. Consequently, Planning and Budgeting is the clear low hanging fruit of LPM 1.0 and vendors have focused most of their efforts where they believe they can most easily gain a foothold.
Planning and BudgetingAfter a new legal project opportunity is defined planning begins to determine the full scope of the project. This is done by defining the desired outcome for the project and developing a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) that will ultimately lead to that desired outcome. The WBS defines any major objectives and project phases, and then breaks those down into discrete tasks required to meet the objectives and complete the phases.
Once the desired outcome and list of tasks is established, the project manager can determine the necessary resources and levels of expertise required for each task, as well as any resource constraints that might impact the outcome. Those constraints might include expertise (Do we have the right people to do the work?), or time (Do we have the capacity to complete the project on time?), or technology (Do we have the right systems in place?).
Budgeting is intended to provide a realistic estimate of the eventual costs to the client as well as considering the firm’s expenses. The project manager assigns individual people, or resources, to specific tasks identified in the WBS, and then estimates the amount of time each task should take to complete. This is where the various alternative staffing scenarios come into play. By experimentally adjusting the degree of leverage on a particular matter (i.e., pushing work to the lowest cost performers who can adequately complete the work while meeting all other project completion criteria), the firm can reduce the cost of its services for the client, better compete with other firms on price, and potentially increase their own profits.
LPM 1.0 promises to provide firms with three new abilities: (1) The ability to create baseline preliminary project plans or templates; (2) the ability to create matter specific budgets based on prior client work that can be used to win new client work; and (3) the ability to compare alternative staffing scenarios, which will allow the firm to produce the same work product at a lower cost to the client while still making a profit for the firm.
In contrast to the Project Management three-legged stool, LPM 1.0 is a one-legged stick chair. It can hold up as long as the project is otherwise perfectly balanced, but the slightest wobble sends the project swiftly to the ground. Legal projects are rarely so well balanced. The greatest plan and budget in the world is often out of date as soon as the matter begins. Attorneys must “work the plan” and adjust as they go. If they don’t actively manage and adjust resources throughout the course of a project, then successful completion of a matter or even successful achievement of today’s immediate goals may be nothing more than coincidence and will certainly not be easily repeatable. LPM 1.0 with it’s focus on Planning and Budgeting is a good and necessary step, but on its own it does nothing to reduce the risk of bad outcomes, cost overruns, time delays, or client dissatisfaction. Additionally, it does nothing to improve the firm’s efficiency, or to increase the transparency and quality of communication between the firm and the client.
The promise of LPM 1.0 is that Planning and Budgeting, in conjunction with the work a firm is already doing, will be enough to meet client demands and maintain business, but in reality, it is in the next two stages that the proverbial LPM “rubber meets the road”.