I saw a post on Knowledge Jolt With Jack, discussing a book called Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & Flow, by Dominica DeGrandis.  DeGrandis identifies five time-theft “thieves:”

  • Too much work-in-process.
  • Unknown dependencies.
  • Unplanned work
  • Conflicting priorities.
  • Neglected work

Continue Reading Time Bandits

Image [cc] highways england

This is one of those posts where I start writing down my thoughts, not really sure where I’m going to end. However, that never stopped me before, so why let it stop me now?

When I was at a Westlaw lunch today discussing the AALL conference in Philadelphia, I had a germ of an idea that started burrowing its way into my brain. We were discussing things like Project Management, KM, lateral hires, and new client/matter opening processes. That’s when it hit me that it seems like there is some role for the library and knowledge services groups to play in delivering some value added information into the opening process. Then I just kept thinking, “but what is that?”

When a new client is brought into the firm, there are certain administrative functions that kick in, primarily in the Conflicts group, and Records. Specifically, these groups investigate any potential issues that may cause the firm not to be able to represent the client due to some previous work, or other problems that legally or ethically prevent the firm from handling the work. Obviously, that’s Conflicts. The other is more of a logistical process of creating a working folder system, assigned to a specific client number, and matter number, for the attorneys to manage the communications and electronic work flow of the client’s specific legal matter. Typically, this is through a Records process assisted by the IT department.

There are other administrative functions that kick in as well. Accounting uses the client/matter number to create a billing process that assigns billing rates, and possibly a matter management process for those firms that use project management on the matter level. Marketing may ask for updates to the client relationship management tool, and if there are deals or significant news worthy issues, help draft a press release announcing the firm is handling the legal matter.

But what processes automatically kick in when a new client, or a new matter is opened within the library? I’ve been pondering that for a few hours now, and really haven’t come up with anything specific that we do. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are doing anything wrong, but I’m wondering if we’re missing an opportunity by not having something kick in, at a minimum when a new client is brought into the firm.

So let me bounce a few ideas off of you on what we could do through automated processes that bring value to the attorneys representing the new client:

  • Prior legal history
  • A report that shows what legal matters the client had, what jurisdictions, judges, law firm representation. 
  • Most likely this could be easily created using resources like Monitor Suite, atVantage, CourtLink, Bloomberg, etc.
  • Company Report
    • Overview of the company, key players, any existing client/firm relationships, and key competitors
    • These can be compiled through the firm’s CRM, and external products like Capital IQ, Hoovers, etc.
  • Current Awareness Reports
    • News reports or industry trade information
    • Lexis news, or news aggregators like Manzama, InfoNgen, Ozmosys, or legal industry news providers like Law360.
  • Prior Deals (M&A, IP, Real Estate)
    • A report that shows prior M&A or other deals.
    • Deal Monitor, MergerMarket, CapIQ, Lex Machina
    I’ll stop there, but you get the idea. What is it that we could bring, automatically, or at least with very little human input, that would push information out to the attorney representing a new client? Is there value in producing this information in a proactive manner, rather than waiting to be asked by the Partner representing the client? Can it be pushed into a client portal, or into the client folders in iManage, or some other place where the attorneys can see it?
    I heard the saying lately that “it’s better to give the attorney something to edit, than to ask them to create something.” Applying this concept to what we could do whenever a new client is brought in, then it would be better to present the attorneys with the information, and let them decide what is valuable or not valuable to them after seeing it. Listen to what the attorneys have to say about the information, and adapt to their needs. 
    There’s definitely an opportunity for each time we have a new client. Let’s be proactive. Push something out and give the attorneys something to edit.
    image [cc] jo.marshall

    Legal Project Management (LPM), perhaps THE legal buzz-phrase of 2012 continues to increase in popularity. The basic thinking behind it is centered on efficiencies. Many clients are asking their firms to become more efficient. As I have noted in the past, they might want to be more specific about what they mean by efficiency. However, LPM will likely be an effective tool for firms to use in providing legal services for clients at lower costs.

    Recently I met with some project managers (PMs) to learn from them and increase my knowledge on the subject. These were project managers involved in commercial real estate building projects. What is unique about their business is that they represent clients, versus general contractors or architecture firms. My first question for them was: Why Clients? I assumed the project managers working with the building contractors would be more than sufficient. Why would a client pay more for their own project managers?

    The reason was made clear by some of their comments. They said architects were focused on building the most functional and attractive buildings. Construction contractors meanwhile were focused on delivering on spec and under budget. Neither of these goals were entirely focused on the client’s agenda. Therefore the role of the client-side PM has the potential to bring significant value.

    I saw a direct analogy to project management in the legal space. Here the law firm functions as both the architect and the contractor. The law firm agenda is delivering the most effective legal service with the best possible outcome. Or in other words, they want to be the best lawyers they can be. It’s not that they don’t care about the client’s agenda; it’s just that they can never fully appreciate it. Added to that situation – the client’s agenda can shift over time.

    As a pricing guy, I am always focused on developing fee options that align law firm and client interests. Yet even the best fee deal is not a full alignment of agendas. In fact that full agenda alignment is unattainable. Two people will differ on agendas, so we can’t expect two organizations to ever come close to that ideal.

    The project managers shared with me a number of examples where their involvement increased value and lowered costs. One of their clients I know commented that they easily saved more on their project than the cost of the extra PMs. And the client was happier with the results.

    Obviously not all legal matters will benefit from a similar client-side PM resource. However, there are likely savings for clients to realize in many practice areas. And beyond savings, the client will realize more effective legal services. (This comment should make Ron Baker happy.)

    Of course I am crystal-balling here a bit. The LPM space is embryonic at best. I predict a bit more evolution will be needed before a client-side LPM option is embraced. Either way, it was interesting to learn from another industry and see that new ideas are being employed in other industries as well.

    Image [cc] s_falkow

    While reading Businessweek’s article called Yammer, Chatter, Hot Water, there was a part of the article that really grabbed my attention. We’ve discussed getting away from using email as an internal communications tool before, but according to Yammer’s CEO and a Deloitte Digital research study, the benefits don’t just stop at an uncluttered email inbox, they go straight to the moral of the employees that use the products:

    “E-mail requires an active response,” says David Sacks, chief executive officer of Yammer, a three-year-old startup in San Francisco that says it provides social-networking software to 100,000 companies. When using Yammer or its rivals, “you don’t have to wait for someone to send you something. You can find it on your own.” Sacks touts the applications as a way to foster camaraderie and loyalty, citing research by tech consultancy Deloitte Digital that showed almost no turnover among its employees who use Yammer frequently. [emphasis added] 

    These types of internal social networks are becoming the equivalent of “engineers’ notebooks” where employees “discuss new ideas and then track how they become actual products, producing a stream of information the company could use to claim ownership of an invention.”

    Of course, the article itself goes on to discuss the risks of these internal social networks, and how the ‘informal’ nature of these networks might cause employees to act inappropriately (as in, discussing ideas that break laws or regulations.) However, with most processes that have high returns, there involves an amount of risk as well. The good news is that there are companies, like Belkin, that are willing to take those risks in order to create an environment that encourages collaboration, idea sharing, and the serendipity moments that arise from a free flow of communications. Companies are balancing the informal communications platform by also reminding and advising their employees to not to write things that violate laws, regulations or other company policies. Belkin’s CIO, Deanna Johnston understands that the risks of encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit will eventually cause a problem, and they’ll adjust their policies as needed. Johnston sums it up nicely by saying, “You have to get on the train… It is not going away.”

    [Ed. Note: Last week, I wrote a post about a company that banned internal email and brought in Yammer as the replacement platform for internal communications. One of my hopes was that I’d get Rob Corrao to follow up and tell us more about how his idea of streamlining communications at LAC-Group became a reality. Rob did not disappoint and has written a nice synopsis of his experience, and gives us a little teaser that there will be more details coming out soon on his own blog, Everything Information. I’d like to personally thank Rob for doing this and I look forward to hearing more. -GL]

    We decided to make the bold move to eliminate internal email about June 2011.  Over the course of a year we tested 4 different products, finally settling on Yammer.  I’m happy to discuss specifics if anyone is interested, and will be posting the entire process on my blog (Everything Information – in the next month or so….over several posts.)

    We set out to resolve four key issues:

    1. How do we preserve contributions after an employee has left?  Preserve our corporate knowledge?
    2. How do we protect internal material from being emailed to the wrong party? Or being forwarded by mistake outside the org (we have all had this happen to someone we know…if not ourselves…and know that hitting the “Recall” in outlook only makes the person actually read what you are trying to recall.
    3. How do we cut down on task duplication/trip/quad/etc… what happens when you need something done right away and email 4 people…and they ALL do it.
    4. How do we bring together a team spread across 7 offices and two continents?

    Top 5 reasons our staff has found that internal messages on Yammer are better than email:

    1. Yammer is a completely searchable tool that outlives any individual employee (eDiscovery compliant/accessible as well) – preserving content even post departure, rather than ending up in an archived email folder sitting on a DVD on someones shelf. It is a central repository for all messages, which enables continual growth of knowledge vs starting over/mining data (which we all know rarely happens due to time and expense).
    2. Yammer helps organize a conversation to keep track of input and eliminates the need for multiple people to have to do the research/fact finding, etc. Increasing organizational productivity.  Employees are working together to get tasks completed.  While email has tried to address “conversations” it’s simply a roll-up based on subject…and we’ve all lost a message or two that happened to have the same subject.
    3. Yammer can be as easy to use as email…or easier.  And can be faster as well!
    4. Yammer can be private – not everything has to be “public” – having a discussion that should only be amongst certain individuals – using private messages you can limit to one or several people.
    5. Yammer builds a corporate repository that allows us to search to see if we have ever had a discussion on a particular topic, client, situation, employee, etc.

    BONUS: Yammer enables a concept I call working publicly.  So many times we want to know what’s going on (as managers) and rather than have to stop an employees productivity to prepare an email (ugh) to update us – we are always updated.  It’s a similar effect to what TR did with their cubicles… brought the height down – working publicly increases collaboration, cooperation, organizational awareness/knowledge and most importantly productivity.

    Now to how we did it (short version).  We first ran a very tight test group, making sure that the technology worked, testing the concepts put forward by Yammer’s implementation team, etc.  We decided that we would design specific groups and not allow random group creation.  One of the groups is called “Water Cooler” and has strict instructions…no business discussed here…keep it fun – bring people together…a place to blow off (of course we also have word monitoring set in the system to prevent too much creative license with words…we still have to keep it clean).

    We also put out a corporate mandate that we were transitioning internal communications and assigned our Yammer champions to re-direct to Yammer.  So when people slip, and they do, and send emails, these champions will forward the email to a group on Yammer (each group can receive posts via email as well)…and then respond within Yammer.

    We officially launched Yammer June 1st.  Many of those on LAC Group’s Yammer had not actually met each other…so we made photos a must.  Each person was also required to fill out their profile (completely) so that people could get to know one another (and their skills, areas of expertise, etc).  Then it was off to the races.  Within the first few days, one of our staff members in DC asked a question that would have taken them 5-6 hours to research…a staff member in NY (who had never met the person in the DC office…or even knew they existed) answered the question in 3 minutes (had done the same search the week prior).  While this happened by chance, creating/manufacturing a similar exercise during roll out would be advised, as adoption immediately soared.

    When we signed up for yammer, the sales staff told us of their most successful clients where internal email was down by 40-50% – our current stats are internal email is down by 80% (and still going).  Team collaboration is up (significantly).  Teamwork where there wasn’t any…and people are getting to know their co-workers, not just across the cube…but across the country.  Duplication of effort (for us this was huge) is down to almost 0%.  Working publicly is working, it’s been a real shift in our corporate culture.
    Ending (internal) email isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard either.  The key is finding a reason for each individual in the company – if there is a personal gain, there will be adoption.

    Success factors:

    1. Running a solid test group – creating Yammer champions – you have to have believers for any cause.
    2. Setting up the right way – Yammer implementation model of just let people go at it and they’ll get it, isn’t the right model (IMHO).  Orchestrate success – that’s how to ensure it happens.
    3. Make it fun… and have a champion for that – we have a daily post in our Water Cooler that keeps people going.  Have a stash of gift cards and make up prizes for most collaboration, most helpful this or that.
    4. Consistently push to Yammer – make sure that the team is posting there, vs email.
    5. Have some real “wins” for people – use a carrot – sticks will only get you so far.
    6. Set up email to Yammer aliases to auto-send to yammer from email – helps with adoption…and your employees don’t need to remember the long cryptic email addresses Yammer assigns to the various groups.
    7. Send regular posts on Yammer tips and tricks to help make adoption stick.  Just because we have reduced email by 80% doesn’t mean it will stay there.  Have to help back-sliders.  We have a daily tip post that goes in our Yammer 101 group.
    8. Dispel myths about email being faster – set up SMS notifications for groups and individuals, as well using the Yammer app (iPhone, Android, BB, iPad, PC, Mac, etc.) to show speed and ease of use.
    9. Use @mentions and #tags to draw attention to people and organize topics.
    10. Find a success factor for each and every participant – it’s got to personally benefit each person, or they won’t use it.

    I’m at rcorrao@lac-group.com if you have any additional questions.

    I don’t like meetings. I feel like meetings often fail to accomplish much beyond getting project team members into the same room once a week. We talk about the work we did the previous week, and we talk about the work we hope to do during the next week, but there are better ways to communicate that information.  I was thinking about this recently and became convinced there must be a better way to structure projects.

    Just as Robert’s Rules of Order are intended to facilitate debate and deliberation among a large group of participants, Ryan’s Rules for Projects are intended to keep team projects moving quickly and  efficiently, and to give them the greatest chance for success.

    Rule #1 – No more than 5 team members on any given project.

    Too often we load up team members on projects in the mistaken belief that having more people involved will allow the team easy access to more information and allow more work to get done faster.  It doesn’t work that way.  Think about it in terms of team sports. (Sports Metaphors: The last refuge of lazy writers.) In team sports, the speed of the action is negatively correlated to the size of the team.  American football can move quickly in short bursts, but the 11 players have to huddle, regroup, choose a new plan and start over in a new spot after every play.  The most surprising event in football is when a team actually marches down the field quickly to score.  European football or Soccer, also 11 players per team, is only slightly better.  They don’t stop play every few seconds, but let’s face it, 90 minutes of play and you’re lucky if either team was able to score at all. Baseball, with 9 players (my personal favorite), has been described as “long periods of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.”  Contrast hockey (6), basketball (5), and tennis (2) and you begin to see a pattern emerge.  Smaller teams can communicate easier, move more quickly, reorganize, and change priorities on the fly, while larger teams lumber on slowly toward a goal.

    Rule #2 – Team members devote 20% of working time to this one project.

    Ideally you should have 4 team members who are able to devote at least 20 percent of their working time to the project.  The fifth member should be an interested senior manager who keeps an eye on the progress of the team, but only gets involved in the event that the team has a 50/50 split on a decision and needs a tie breaker.  The 20 percent minimum ensures that no person is on more than a few projects at once, leaving the rest of their time available for miscellaneous working activities, like the rest of their job.

    A smaller team devoting the same total number of man-hours to a project, will always outperform a larger team.

    Rule #3 – Team members must collaborate regularly.

    Collaboration time differs from “meeting time”, in so far as it is time spent actually working together on a project.  Two or more team members may schedule time to collaborate, or they may spontaneously meet up, or call each other.  They may have a goal for their collaboration time, or a particular problem they wish to tackle, but they should never have an agenda of multiple items to be covered during a particular period.  Collaboration is directed, focused work, but it should be spontaneous, and never managed. During collaboration time, team members may work closely together on the same problem, or they may choose to tackle different problems in silence, together.  Being in proximity and thinking about the same project at the same time gives rise to serendipitous discoveries, and creative solutions, but it also ensures that team members stay focused on the project rather than being pulled away by other concerns.

    Rule #4 – Meetings should be “nasty, brutish, and short.”

    Okay, I’ll admit it, meetings are sometimes a necessary evil.  However, meetings should not be opportunities for the project team to communicate with each other, they are opportunities for the team to communicate with their fifth member, or with other senior management.  The team may call a meeting to get direction or a clarification of goals from management, to report progress, or to present new solutions and confirm they are on the right path.  Management may call a meeting to check in on the project, or to establish new goals or directives.   Meetings should be short, typically 15 minutes, and never more than 30.  They should be ad hoc, called only when necessary.  With fewer members devoting more time to the project, and meetings of shorter duration, ad hoc meetings should become fairly easy to schedule.  If you insist on holding regular meetings, they should be held at predetermined intervals along the project timeline, or when particular project milestones are achieved.

    Why nasty and brutish? 

    I really like the Hobbes quote, but it’s also relevant. While office interactions should always be professional and genial, good people can, and often do, disagree, especially in the midst of collaboration.  Disagreement can be very healthy and creative. In my experience, many people hold back in meetings, afraid to express opinions for fear of looking foolish or damaging another team member’s pride. Whether we enter meetings as C-level officers, plebeian peons, or something in between, we need to leave our egos, our job titles, and our inhibitions at the door.  For 15 minutes the meeting should be a free flow of brutally honest ideas and opinions. At the end of the meeting, managers give directions, team members return to their project, and, like Vegas, what happened in the meeting, stays in the meeting.

    Rule #5 – Fail small, fail quickly, and fail often.

    Back in February, I wrote an post titled “In Praise of Failure” where this final rule was the punchline.  As I said in that post, “Quick failures… are merely steps on the way to success.”   Part of the reason we continue with  pointless meetings, accomplishing little, is because even though they bring us no closer to success, they also move us no closer to failure.  Meetings, as we currently practice them, are the equivalent of treading water.  We’re not going anywhere, but we’re not drowning either, and that’s considered good enough.

    Projects are inherently collaborative.  Collaboration is always messy.  Messy often leads to failure.  Failure with a little self-awareness gives rise to learning.  Learning creates new knowledge.  New knowledge is fed back into the project, and the process begins again.  Occasionally, “messy” takes a sharp left turn and leads to success, but only after several iterations of the process, and therefore, several failures.  Sadly, we are more afraid of failing, than we are driven to succeed, and we should be most afraid of standing still.

    I have never had an opportunity to practice Ryan’s Rules for Projects.  I have attempted to implement some of the rules into existing projects and I’ve been overruled or outvoted each time.  Maybe these rules are a recipe for failure, or maybe they’re keys to success, but if you’re tired of treading water, you could do a lot worse than trying it my way.

    Jeffrey Brandt at PinHawk suggests a few more rules and I wholeheartedly agree.  My list was never intended to be definitive or comprehensive.  If you have further suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

    Brandt’s Addenda:  

    Rule #6 – All team meetings must have an agenda. (ed. meetings not collaboration time)
    Rule #7 – All projects must have a written definition of success.
    Rule #8 – All projects must have links to one (or more) strategic business initiatives.

    Since we’re on the topic of Social Networks in a Law Firm…

    A good friend recently asked me about my “thoughts on what social means in the context of project management?”  I replied with the following:

    Social (small s) collaboration is the lifeblood of any project undertaken by human beings.   We have evolved to collaborate with our peers to achieve goals greater than any one of us could possibly achieve on our own.  We naturally band together in groups to distribute work load, to take advantage of individuals strengths and to limit the burden of individual weaknesses.  This is true whether we’re banding together to take down a mastodon with spears, building a barn, or managing a business project.  Whereas, historically, most human teams have formed for a specific purpose at a specific time and place, the modern business project team is often dispersed geographically and chronologically.  We work in different offices, we have different schedules, and we are usually working on multiple projects simultaneously.

     There are 3 key elements of group work which are easily lost in the modern environment. These are the elements that Social Collaboration tools attempt to address. 

    ·         Member Bonding
    ·         Multi-Party Communication
    ·         Real-time analysis and reaction                         

    It’s cheesy, but if we look at these three elements in terms of a prehistoric tribe hunting big game, you can see where our modern environment breaks down.  The group of hunters leave the village together early in the morning with a single goal of bringing home protein for the entire village. They walk for miles together looking for signs of large game.  Along the way, they talk about the task at hand, but they also talk about their families, their concerns, their ideas.  When they find their prey, they kneel in the dirt and draw up their plan of attack, team members ask questions and others share stories of earlier experiences to find solutions.  When they’re ready to enact their plan, they spread out, staying within line of sight and communicating via hand signals and gestures.  If the animal responds unexpectedly, they react immediately and call out to the others to enact an alternate plan, or to improvise based on the new situation.  At the end of the day they return with their kill or they don’t, but either way they have shared experience and knowledge. When they leave the village the next morning, they will be a stronger team than they were the day before.  

    Managing a legal project team should not be any more difficult than hunting a mammoth.  Unfortunately, we aren’t in the same location at the same time and we have varying degrees of interest and commitment to the task at hand.  We have very little opportunity to get to know the other team members on an extra-project basis.  We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to determine what’s being done by whom, and whether our contribution is comparable to other team members.  If the original circumstances change, we may not even be aware of the change, let alone in a position to react in a timely manner. And when the project is complete, successfully or not, we disperse to our individual careers and go about our business, until the next time we’re pulled into a new team with no experience, comprised of people we hardly know.

    Social (big s) collaboration tools are a regressive technology, in that they allow us to use our instinctive social toolbox to tackle modern projects in a modern environment, and they allow an exploded project team to work as if they are in the same room at the same time, regardless of their individual locations or schedules.  Social tools will not ensure successful projects, but if used well, they should at the very least ensure efficient failures which build stronger teams to tackle future projects.

    After several hours with no response, I followed up with my friend.

    Me: Did I miss the point of your question?

    Friend: Yes, but that would be a great blog post.

     Moral of the story:  Be careful asking me open ended questions.

    Many ground breaking, earth shattering, paradigm shifting solutions have begun with the words, “wouldn’t it be really great if…” Great ideas and solutions require people of vision with the ability to see beyond the current reality and dream fantastic possibilities for the future. Unfortunately, many stupid, dead-end, wastes of time have started exactly the same way.  How do you know when someone speaks these words which outcome will result?  Well, there’s no way to be entirely sure. Geniuses make mistakes and blind chickens occasionally find seeds, but asking the question in the title is a good place to start.
    What problem are we solving?  If the answer is clear and obvious to everyone present, then go for it, there’s a good chance you will create value for your firm.  If the question is met with silent contemplation, then run screaming from the room with your fingers in your ears.  The phrase, “wouldn’t it be really great if…” usually precedes an idea that is undeniably cool. While there is value in cool, that value is rarely sufficient to justify the time and expense required to see the project through, unless it also solves an existing problem.
    IT and KM are first and foremost problem solving disciplines. Like the old adage says, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  Likewise, if we’re not solving problems, we are usually creating them. An IT or KM project that meets the cool criteria, but fails the “what problem are we solving” test is almost guaranteed to create more problems down the road. 

    As the school year ended, I told my three daughters that I was going to cancel the cable subscriptions because I didn’t want them sitting in front of the TV all Summer watching The Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. However, like most of my home projects, I haven’t followed through on my promise. Instead, we’ve been addicted to the show The Voice, and we’ve been spending our “family time” discussing Christina Aguilera’s ability to look like Betty Boop characters and Ce Lo Green’s choice in sunglasses. Oh, we’ve also been discussing the talent on the show as well. The initial idea behind The Voice was to take unsigned talent and judge them by their skills as a singer, not by their looks. Although as the show has progressed, it seems that there is some judging on “showmanship,” what actually caught me off-guard last night and this morning was that “unsigned” didn’t mean “never signed.” Some of the talent is getting a “second chance” at grabbing the music industry’s brass ring. It was this “second-chance” aspect that got me thinking about projects that failed, but may still be worth giving another chance to see if maybe the time is right for a comeback. As usual, you’re going to have to stick with me for a minute as I try to draw this parallel between musicians and legal projects.

    Two of the most polished singers on The Voice, Dia Frampton and Javier Colon, aren’t amateurs. Not only have they been signed by major record labels, but both have released multiple CDs, all to limited fanfare, and then they were dumped by their record labels. (See Javier’s and Dia’s work under their band names, Javier and Meg & Dia.)

    It’s a common story… great talent gets you so far, but without the proper planning and support, even the best talent can go unnoticed and end up labeled as a failure. Sound eerily similar to some of the KM, IT, Library, Biz Dev, CI, and so on and so forth, projects that are given their initial chance in the law firm. Inevitably, some of these projects aren’t given the support they need (adequate funding, equipment, personnel, etc), or the planning is so poor that they fail (lack of proper environmental testing, rolled out to the wrong group, etc.) Although there are many projects that fail because they are “bad projects,” there are many “great projects” that fail because the people supporting the projects have failed in their support.

    So, just like Dia and Javier, are some of these failed projects worth another chance? Perhaps some of those projects were ahead of their time (meaning your firm just wasn’t ready for them two years ago, but perhaps now they are.) Perhaps some of those projects took a hit when the great recession hit in 2007-2008, and now that business is picking back up, it is time to give those failed projects a second chance.

    The biggest hurdle on giving something a second chance is overcoming the fact that they failed in the first place. Maybe, as with the premise of The Voice, you should have a little selective ignorance of what happened in the past, and listen to the value of the project in the here and now. Perhaps you’ll turn your chair around on a worthwhile project and wonder how you let it fail in the first place.

    Just for a little fun, here’s a couple of videos from Dia Frampton… the first one, Monster, was a failure, and the second one, Heartless, seems to show that sometimes things are worth giving a second chance.

    Monster (Meg & Dia) – Labeled a Failure

    Heartless – Worth A Second Chance?

    [Image CC by nhanusek]

    This week’s Elephant Post question on Project Management (PM) centers around the concept of is PM conducted in a law firm setting significantly different enough from PM conducted, say in a Fortune 500 company, that it deserves its own classification? Is it Legal Project Management (LPM)? Or, is it simply Project Management conducted within the confines of a law firm… and the “Legal” prefix is simply a marketing ploy to get lawyers to buy in?

    Some of the top people in the PM/LPM field chimed in this week, and I think you’ll enjoy the banter that goes back and forth. We thank all of those that contributed, and we’ll do this all over again next week with a new question that asks if law firms should just give up on Client Relationship Management tools (like InterAction), and just outsource the CRM using social media tools like LinkedIn? I actually know of some that are… but I imagine this question would cause minor strokes in some law firm Partners and some of you that actually manage your firm’s CRM tools. So, if you have a perspective, scroll down to the bottom of this post and fill out the handy-dandy form we’ve set up for you.

    Steven B. Levy
    Author, Legal Project Management

    There absolutely is a difference. Traditional project management is designed for construction, aerospace, manufacturing, and other such areas with horizontal and vertical task stability — you know in advance each of the tasks (vertical) and you know in advance how long each will take within a narrow range of variability (horizontal). Legal does not meet either of these requirements. The profession is getting noticeably better on the vertical axis, clear identification of all of the tasks along with clear separation of them. However, in legal, as opposed to construction, say, you have a human adversary expending considerable effort to disrupt your plans. (E-discovery is a special case that comes closer to mapping to traditional project management techniques and tools.)

    That said, the principles are the same.

    Thus Legal Project Management is the application of the principles of project management to legal cases or matters (a/k/a projects).

    Also, consider that there are three levels of “project management” — project administration, project management, and project leadership. Project administration isn’t much different in the legal world, and need not be done by attorneys. Project management currently, where it’s being practiced, is usually done by attorneys, but over time there’ll be a balance between attorney and non-attorney PMs. However, project leadership, the most critical aspect of PM and LPM, will remain an attorney role for the foreseeable future.

    Legal Project Management makes a difference in the practices that adopt it. Project leadership can make an even bigger difference — for clients, for the team, and for profitability.

    Jeffrey Brandt

    There is absolutely no such thing as ‘legal project management.’  You can start with my post here!

    Project management is project management.  To label it with the industry it is being used in hyperbole.  Good project management adapts to the project at hand.  How much and what kinds of project management tools you use are as varied as the nature of the projects themselves.  Legal has nothing unique in it that would require a special prefix on project management.  While project management may have had its start in heavy industry and manufacturing, progressive service industries have also engaged and used it.  Have you ever heard of a small company called PricewaterhouseCooper?  What about another small company called Bank of America?  Of course you have.  Have you ever heard of FPM or financial project management?  What about BPM or banking project management? I doubt you have.  I certainly haven’t.  PwC and BoA have been using PM for ages on their projects.  Is it the exact same kind of PM that law firms use or that NASA uses to build the next generation space shuttle?  No. Does that mean they need to prefix PM in order to make it relevant?  No. The basics processes and benefits of project management are solid without being dressed up.

    Toby is right that there has been progress on the PM front in the legal vertical and that is great news.  I look forward to more and more PM processes and tools being used in legal.  The bad news is that either legal feels the need to engage in self-aggrandizement, or the industry vendors or consultants feel the need to prefix plain, old PM in order to sell it or charge more for it.

    Thanks for listening.  I’ll let you go now.  You probably need to get back to check your legal email on your legal mobile device or your legal PC running your legal Windows 7.  Or maybe you need to make a legal call on your legal telephone.

    Sorry folks but the Shark Repellent Bat Spray is just plain, old shark repellent.  And that’s ok, because shark repellent is great!  It can come in very handy when you accidently get dumped in the water and no amount of fisticuffs (or booticuffs?) will get that shark off you before it explodes.


    Eric Elfman
    LPM Vendor

    I think that LPM exists and is different than PM, but not for the same reasons as Steven.

    Although Steven is on to something in his reference of who PM was designed for and where it came from. If you are building freeways or nuclear submarines, then you need PM the way that Microsoft Project defines it: top down, rigid, hierarchical and complete. LPM is not that.

    I believe that LPM is closer to a “lean” project management that we use in the software industry. In lean PM, you can’t plan to the end of the project, you have to be flexible (or iterative), status meetings and updates and collaboration is key. I believe that LPM is really “Lean Project Management,” but from my experience, the legal market doesn’t receive that message well.

    Ben Wightwick
    “Legal” IT PM and BA

    This will be a short post to the previous additions, as I’m no expert.

    You don’t hear BPM (Banking project management) or IPM (Insurance project management). I think (an this is where I get myself into trouble) lawyers like labels, and need something that uniquely defines them/firm/program of work. The fact it’s based on facets of existing solid and sensible project management practices is neither here nor there.

    LPM or PM (with a legal component slant) – it’s the PM that’s important and it’s not rocket science.

    Toby Brown

    Is there really such a thing as Automotive Design?  Isn’t it really just “Design?”

    My point is that if an industry needs to add its name as a prefix to a valuable idea in order to adopt it, then go for it.  Legal Project Management may just be a flavor of PM.  So what.  If adding the “L” gets law firm partners on-board, then it makes sense to me.

    David Whelan
    Manager of Legal Information

    Project management is project management.  There are going to be nuances depending on the organization and the type of project but I don’t think there is a fundamental need to call it “legal” project management.  Law firm IT already does project management and, while the subject matter is different, I’m not sure that the project management concepts are.

    However, the legal world seems to have two recurring themes.  First, in order to sell the lawyer (partners, faculty, members), you need to have a lawyer doing the work.  Calling it Legal Project Management will make it feel better for the audience and for the lawyers who are going to do it.  Second, we like to create silos.  Calling it Legal PM enables  the creation of a second project management nexus (PMOffice, whatever) in organizations that might already have the basic infrastructure, if not necessarily the right knowledge base, to provide project management support.  The upside is that creating a new silo is probably easier and the downside is that, in about 3 years when this has proven itself as either a fad or a staying trend, you may need to figure out how to merge multiple project management units.

    Timothy B. Corcoran
    Legal Technology & Marketing Executive

    Legal Project Management is the application of standard project management concepts and techniques and tools to a legal practice.  Simply re-labeling or packaging the core concepts differently doesn’t change the discipline, but it may make it more palatable to lawyers.  Having spent several years conducting LPM trainings and workshops, I can confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that lawyers will not embrace concepts and techniques that appear to be designed for other disciplines.  On multiple occasions a law firm hired a “specialist” from another discipline, only to reject all the examples and case studies that were culled from industry, so I was asked to deliver a version customized to the legal field, and all of my anecdotes and case studies were from actual matters at actual law firms… so same concepts, different context.

    I’ll also add that while lawyers generally “get” the analytics that are so important to good project management, they embrace this only after they’ve understood the underlying business concepts.  For example, diving right into process mapping to inform budgets will falter unless the lawyers first understand the critical importance of predictability to clients.  Also, lawyers often don’t readily acknowledge that there isn’t infinite variability and “art” in their legal work, and much of what they do in matter A is applicable in matter B, and so on.  They tend to equate repeatability with commodity, and few lawyers believe s/he practices commodity law.  So one area where LPM must be adapted from general PM concepts is to differentiate between those processes that are “routine” and those that are truly innovative and creative.

    Pam Woldow

    As a lawyer who has used LPM in her own legal practice, and in the last four years has taught it to thousands of lawyers in law firms and corporate legal departments, Legal Project Management is a significant and independent variant of standard PM due to the legal environment in which lawyers operate.  Equating the two would be like saying that since a horse has four legs and a dog has four legs, a dog is a horse.

    One of the primary goals of PM is to reduce variation.  That’s perfect for turning out car fenders on an assembly line.  PM is also aimed at collaborative efforts to achieve goals set forth in a Project Charter.  So, it is excellent for planning linear processes, like software or systems development, where a team is working toward a singular goal.

    For those of us who have practiced law, those PM goals don’t work in real-world legal trenches.  Law is inherently different from manufacturing and IT.  In litigation, for example, you have an opposing counsel whose efforts, intellect and time are spent trying to frustrate, defeat, and unseat all your efforts.  There is no single team all working to create a fender or a software installation.  Instead, you have clashing, opposing forces that are paid (handsomely!) to think of and effect ways to undo the gains of the other side.  In a software installation, for example, this would be like having someone erase programming code and toss the computers out the window every night after a day’s work.

    And, transactional work has the same tensions.  In mergers and acquisition deals, there are fleets of brainy folks trying to move the price point in favor of their client.  All the while, business folks, shareholders, the press and others are bringing unique pressures to bear on the chess pieces that the lawyers are moving on the board.

    Moreover, the players – the lawyers – have very specific personality traits that have been tested and written about many times.  They tend to be extraordinarily autonomous and non-collaborative – markedly more so than the general population and other professionals.
    Lawyers work very independently.  In fact, we’re trained to do so from law school onward, and the compensation structures in law firms intensify and reinforce that tendency.  So, in law firms you have a boatload of autonomous, intelligent folks engaged in ritual warfare on behalf of clients who pay them to achieve certain goals.  This is not an environment where standard PM is going to play well.

    That said, there are processes that can be improved and made more efficient.  There are patterns in matters or parts of matters that can be flow-charted and for which some parts of traditional PM approaches make sense.  The push towards sharing information and collaborating that LPM supports absolutely enhances the efficacy of strategizing, staffing and managing legal matters.  But, a dog is NOT a horse.

    Next Week’s Elephant Post:

    Is It Time To Outsource Client Relationship Management Tools to Products Like LinkedIn?

    Perhaps your firm is the exception and you have somehow got your CRM tool to work properly and get everyone in your firm to share their contacts, and keep all that information up to date. For the rest of the world, however, it seems that no one has a success story to talk about when it comes to the data found in their CRM. Is it time to just give it up and admit that CRM is a pipe-dream? Can the information that is found in external products like LinkedIn actually work more effectively than trying to keep up with all of those relationships internally?? Let us know your perspective.