How to convince clients of your legal project management capability

Clients expect their legal advisors to manage their matters efficiently.  New and prospective clients in particular will be thinking, if not asking outright, how does this firm manage its legal work?  What can I expect to see happen during my legal work?

Of course every law firm will say that it has processes and procedures in place to manage matters efficiently and effectively.  So the next thing a new or prospective client will be thinking, and should ask outright, is: where’s the evidence to back up what I’m being told?

 

Core documentation

I think a small number of key documents can give prospective clients a pretty good idea about how seriously project (matter) management is taken by their legal advisors.

The documents I have in mind are:

  • Project Initiation Document (PID)
  • Change Control Log
  • Cost Management Plan

 

The purpose of a PID

A PID acts as a skeleton or outline project plan.  As such, completing a PID should not be treated as an exercise in pre-project ‘box-ticking’.  A good PID will force project managers to think carefully about the proposed project (legal matter) at hand.

As the name suggests, PIDs are completed during the project initiation phase – in other words, quite early on in the project.  It must be expected that some (if not all) the estimates in the PID will change as the project progresses.  When changes occur, these need not be fatal.  Change is to be expected and a good PID provides an excellent baseline from which to assess the nature of change and track project progress.

A good PID can often act as the primary project document.  Indeed during smaller projects it may be the only document referred to consistently throughout the project.  At the very least a good PID provides a robust project framework, providing the basis for all subsequent project management activity.

Perhaps the most useful thing about a PID is this: it demonstrates that, from the outset, serious thought has been given to how the project can be managed.  This alone should provide some reassurance to clients.

 

Everyone knows what they are signing up to

Notwithstanding the above, the single most important purpose of a PID is to make sure the internal project sponsor (client partner) and client fully understand what they are signing-up to.

With this in mind, an effective PID needs to be a clear and succinct, yet comprehensive, summary plan.

 

Contents of a PID

Typically, a good PID is likely to contain items such as:

  • Project (Case) Name.
  • Project Manager & Principal Contact: so everyone knows who is primarily responsible for ensuring successful completion of the project / matter.
  • Project Aims: expressed in the clients language, not the lawyers.
  • Project Scope: short scope summary, including referencing what is clearly out of scope.
  • Project Approach: summary of the key project management methods and techniques used to help manage the matter.
  • Resource Requirements: numbers and grade of personnel required, plus non-human resources.
  • Project Budget: initial total budget estimate based on the information available to date.
  • Acceptance Criteria: what, from the client’s perspective, amounts to the project being completed successfully?  How will ‘completion’ be recognised as being achieved?
  • Key Risks: summary of key risks, including risk mitigation tasks.
  • Proposed Schedule: short list of key activities, with target completion dates.
  • Communications Plan: project stakeholders listed with a note of what they need to know, how this information is to be communicated to them and the frequency of those communications.
  • Approval Date: as signed-off by project sponsor and client
  • Signature of Project Sponsor: as previously noted in the present context this is usually a law firm client partner.
  • Signature of Client.

 

Change Control Log

It is rare that a project of any sort will proceed exactly as outlined in the PID.  Indeed, it is rare that a project will proceed in accordance with more detailed project plans which should always (but sometimes don’t) follow a PID.

Change control processes help ensure the client and delivery team agree on the form and content of any significant variations to the project.  Most importantly, all those involved in the change control process must agree about the cost of any proposed changes and the impact that making them will have on the project scope and delivery timetable.

A Change Control Log lists each change request, summarises their nature and records whether the request was granted or not.  In effect, a change control log shows how a project has evolved since its original inception as recorded in the PID.

 

Cost Management Plan

A Cost Management Plan describes processes used to manage the project budget.  A Cost Management Plan will contain things such as who can approve expenditure and set-out what needs to be done procedurally should the overall project budget need to be increased.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a Cost Management Plan is setting out the frequency of budget analysis and review.  For projects subject to Earned Value Management processes this is essential – how often are costs reviewed and assessed against the original budget baseline plan?

 

A comforting framework for clients

I think the three documents highlighted in this post are particularly indicative of good project management practice.  Interestingly, I have seen legal project management software which makes provision for something like the PID outlined above.  Projects are likely to be more successful if they are conducted within an explicit framework.  Having a framework available should make lawyers more productive and provide comfort to clients that their matters will be indeed be handled efficiently and effectively.

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