Interest in legal project management (LPM) continues to escalate. Users are reaping benefits. In-house counsel are pushing for adoption. The big debate has shifted from whether to adopt LPM to how to adopt LPM, and what approach to use. Advocates allege that LPM promotes efficiency, reduces costs, improves fee estimates and reduces surprises. Opponents argue that the extensive culture shift requires costly training, is time consuming, and unnecessary in a largely billable hours profession. While others have been debating the merits and the best approach, I have created a project management web application that addresses some of the negatives and could easily be used by law firms and in-house counsel. Here are my top ten suggestions for implementing legal project management in your organization.
1. Focus on the goal line instead of the schedule. Gantt charts were developed by an engineer and work well when projects are sequential and predictable. Legal projects are rarely either sequential or predictable. To reach the goal, regroup often, as a team, and chip away at the work to be done.
2. Use a more flexible and intuitive scheduling approach. Ensure that your system distinguishes between fixed deadlines, such as court filing dates, and target deadlines, which can be used to manage the schedule. Not all deadlines are equal.
3. Elevate a strong administrative assistant or paralegal to the role of project manager, and let the senior partner function as the project sponsor and knowledge manager. To develop a dashboard of meaningful data requires a large amount of data entry, and a lawyer’s time is better spent practicing law.
4. Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Better yet, use a transparent online tool that will reduce the communications burden. Pay attention to communication preferences for key stakeholders.
5. Track lessons learned so that future teams are not dependent on memory banks.
6. Build a strong case matter approval system and a change control process so that the client knows what scope and quality it is paying for, has a reasonable fee prediction, and some understanding of the reliability of that prediction. Understand what success means to your client at the outset, and, as your client’s definition of success changes, redefine and re-plan the project.
7. Build your project plan using a visual tool. A project plan is not just a list of activities with assigned resources and deadlines. Distinguish between those activities which must be managed and which typically carry a deliverable and those smaller tasks which simply must be completed. Build your project plan, which includes managing risks, issues, money, quality, resources and vendor contracts around those larger activities or deliverables, and allow for a place to simply record the smaller tasks, as well as the assigned resource and completion date for each task.
8. For each activity, use some type of coding, such as the UTBMS codes, and measure the reliability of budget predictions. Understand the difference between fee predictions (including billable hourly work, outsourced work and expenses) and cost predictions (the cost of providing your services). Measure and manage both over the long-term to improve fee estimates and ensure profitability. Develop some historical trend data, and ultimately, hold partners accountable for bad pricing decisions.
9. Use structured team meetings to build commitment and accountability, and to plan and manage the project. Use an online tool that allows the project manager to enter details during the meeting, and reduce the need for meeting minutes.
10. Invite client representatives to attend your training sessions to increase buy-in, energy and excitement.