2/26/13

LPM - Where the Rubber Meets the Road - Part 4 of 5

This post is the fourth part of a whitepaper written by Scott Preston and Ryan McClead. The full paper can be downloaded here.

Legal Project Management 2.0 

The next generation of Legal Project Management software (LPM 2.0) extends and expands on the Planning and Budgeting capabilities of earlier products, and it includes tools to help with the Execution and Monitoring and Controlling stages of Project Management. Personal beliefs to the contrary, most attorneys do not execute, monitor, or control their projects any better than they plan and budget for them.  LPM 1.0, with its focus on Planning and Budgeting is a great introduction to the concepts of Project Management, but LPM 2.0 fills in the missing pieces.

Execution

Image [cc] - Tim Olson
The Execution stage is where those who were assigned tasks during Budgeting interact with their tasks. Execution may seem the most intuitive and simple of the stages, but it is this stage that will be the most difficult for firms to embrace, because quality Execution requires a wholesale change of attorney mindset from meeting hourly requirements to completing assigned tasks. This, more than any other aspect of Legal Project Management, most fundamentally cuts against the established practice of most firms. Hourly goals determine bonuses, equity points, promotions, office selection, and nearly every other aspect of an attorney’s professional life within a firm. In LPM 2.0 efficient quality work beats quantity work every time. This turns conventional law firm “wisdom” on its head.  While convincing firms to drop their existing pay structures and adopt a new model is way beyond the scope of this paper, and we absolutely do not expect such a change to take place immediately or to happen easily, we do expect it to happen eventually. The benefits of a task-based system of execution far outweigh that relic of a bygone era of plenty, hourly targets. Those benefits are realized in the final stage of LPM 2.0.

Monitoring and Controlling

By systematically focusing on task completion, rather than hours worked, this final stage can produce accurate project status reports and track financial projections to ensure that the project is on schedule and within budget. With up-to-date task information it is also possible to produce ongoing budget to actual variance reports, for both time and costs, which can be shared with clients or used for internal evaluation and efficiency improvement.  Until we begin to attribute work to tasks, reporting budgeted to actual work is a manual process involving the deconstruction of time entries and/or the reliance on phase and task codes, which in the past have proven unreliable. Monitoring task completion also provides a context for the work being done. The client can look through agreed upon tasks and get a much better sense of how a project is progressing.  This transparent process builds trust with the attorney and eases the pain should the project run into unforeseeable stumbling blocks or cost overruns. For the attorney this eventually becomes a much more intuitive way to work. No one gets up in the morning thinking, “I need to spend 4 hours and 6 minutes on this, and 2 hours and 24 minutes on that.” They think, “I need to complete this task, and when I’m done with it I can begin on the next one.”

In the traditional hourly work model, After Action Reporting and Analysis, should they be done at all, are little more than personal assessments of “how we did” or “where we need to improve”. They are at best subjective analyses heavily influenced by personality and politics. A change in focus to task-based Execution and Monitoring will provide hard statistical data, allowing firms to continually improve their processes and procedures, and to correct or reward their employees based on actual work performed and tasks completed. Over time clients will begin to see improvement in the firm’s delivery of legal services, efficiency and productivity should increase and costs should come down. In addition, this process of tracking tasks and closely monitoring results has implications for several other aspects of practicing law, including:

Managing Risk –As soon as a firm begins working the perfect project plan, reality intercedes and the plan must adapt. Tactics may change as they learn more about the project; and resources change as the workload fluctuates. Timing constraints and requirements may change as a client's needs evolve.  Without task-based execution and monitoring, the partner has no control or oversight of the impacts these changes have on the project and no ability to effectively keep the client informed about the impact of these changes on timing and costs.
Improving Workflow – By accurately tracking task completion firms will have a much better understanding of the “bottlenecks” currently slowing project completion. Resources can be brought to bear on specific areas giving the team an opportunity to navigate troubled waters more effectively.  
Resource Management - The most valuable (and expensive) resource a law firm has is its attorneys and support staff.  For decades law firms have added headcount on an annual basis, irrespective of any real analytics to support that decision.  Many believed that even if the work wasn’t there immediately, they could always raise rates later to make up the gap. By incorporating the execution and monitoring phases of LPM into a firm’s standard operating procedure, the firm can start to truly understand how it actually works and begin to intelligently “right size” its workforce.
Defensibility - The execution phase, because it memorializes who did what and when, provides an audit trail of exactly how a project was worked and completed.
A Universal Project Plan - By incorporating the execution phase into an LPM solution, firms can manage and monitor projects that include external resources.  This might mean pushing work out to lower cost centers (for example outsourcing e-discovery services) and tracking their progress, or it might mean allowing a client to follow the progress of the project plan (to an agreed upon level of detail).  
Improving Future Project Plans – By tracking task performance firms will have a much better ability to streamline workflow for future work as well as improve project plans for future use.  This makes each iteration of the project plan more accurate than the one before and greatly simplifies the creation of new project plans.
Improving Experience Databases –A complete LPM system tracks individual performers’ execution of specific tasks, which can provide detailed information about who within the firm has experience performing which specific tasks and how much experience they have. This information can be leveraged by various knowledge systems and “Know-Who” databases.
Identifying Professional Development Opportunities – The complete LPM system tracks not only the tasks that individuals complete, but also the time it takes to complete a task. This provides valuable insight into Professional Development and continuing education opportunities.

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