People usually leave my training courses and seminars convinced, and enthused, about the merits of legal project management (LPM). Unfortunately some then return to their firms where some partners and senior managers share neither their conviction nor enthusiasm.
Which is why, during my training events, there is always some discussion about how best to promote LPM back at the office. Everyone realises that adopting LPM principles is likely to be done more quickly, and with much greater chance of overall success, if the firm’s senior management team support LPM initiatives.
Senior management understanding of LPM
Some law firm partners and senior managers have relatively little understanding about what legal project management actually involves. Hardly surprising therefore that it’s going to be difficult for them to support LPM initiatives with enthusiasm.
Needless to say, I’d suggest they spend half a day at one of my training events being introduced to LPM concepts and considering how best to apply them!
More time for learning
More junior lawyers and other professionals who support lawyer fee earning activity appear to have more time available for LPM training. In my experience it is the other support professionals (such as knowledge management staff, cost lawyers and operations staff) who appear most curious about LPM. Hence they are more willing than front-line lawyers to spend time learning about LPM and considering how it could be applied.
Ultimately however junior lawyers and other support professionals are faced with the same core issue: how to convince partners and senior managers to support legal project management initiatives?
Just go ahead and try something
One suggestion is for people to simply try an aspect of LPM, informally as part of their team. Assuming they and / or their team are becoming more productive as a result, they should then feel more confident about approaching senior management for more formal support.
Trying something like Kanban is often good place to start, as it is a light and low-cost technique used to exert greater project control.
Look for the ‘bright spots’
You will often find, especially in medium-large law firms, that some individuals or teams are already applying project management techniques but are not promoting them as such.
At one of my training events recently, after I explained Agile project management, someone noted that a junior partner had his team do short stand-up meetings every morning. ‘Now I know where that comes from’ said the delegate. The partner was not calling these events stand-up meetings nor referring to Agile practices. Moreover, there is no reason why he should. So long as the techniques work they can be applied with minimum fuss and without referencing project management terminology.
Once you have found a ‘bright spot’ such as this, note what seems to be working and then seek replicate it elsewhere in the firm. (For more about ‘bright spots’ see the book ‘Switch – how to change things when change is hard’ by Chip and Dan Heath).
At some point however, you are going to need to scale things up if existing bright spots are to be replicated or new methods introduced throughout the firm. Scaling things up will inevitably require senior management support.
If senior management can be shown successful bright spots they should have much less resistance to wider implementation. But sometimes, even with the spots shining ever so brightly, there is still some convincing of senior management left to do.
Recognising there is a problem (and a solution)
Sometimes senior law firm management simply do not recognise that they have a problem. More likely, they recognise they have a problem but struggle to identify the best solution.
So how to help senior management appreciate the issues and most likely solutions? One way of doing this is to engage them by asking some questions – with a solution already in mind.
Even in the more progressive law firms a degree of courage is sometimes required to put searching questions to senior members of the firm. So before asking the questions, take steps to tip the odds in your favour.
A little research can go a long way
The purpose of asking questions is to help bring issues out into the open. Answers which are merely personal viewpoints, regardless of who is providing the views, are of limited value. What is needed are some facts, followed by some light analysis and discussion. So before even asking the questions why not do a little research and collect some facts first?
Assume for the moment you have heard on the grapevine that your firm has lost some formal tenders for work recently and you believe that improving your firm’s project delivery capability would help with future bids. Why not have an informal chat with someone who is regularly involved in putting proposals together to get an idea about how many bids the firm has been unsuccessful with? Even better if you can learn something about the reasons given by the potential clients for placing their business elsewhere. Then you could perhaps begin a discussion with someone in senior management with reference to the facts (‘four bids lost recently’) before suggesting how things may be improved.
The questions to ask of your firm’s senior management are fairly obvious but the answers can be very revealing. Asking questions should naturally lead to constructive discussion about improvement. I would suggest that, more often than not, the road towards improvement is paved with project management principles and techniques.