Many lawyers and legal service teams now have some familiarity with the concept Matter Management…
It’s perfectly feasible to run projects to improve performance in activities as diverse as commercial contracting and putting (as in golf putting).
This was brought home to me during summer when I enjoyed reading two books about process improvement in these two very different fields of endeavour.
Anything can be organised into ‘a project’ and most activities we do can be thought of as ‘a process’.
With this in mind it becomes easy to see the similarities between these two books which, on the face of it, should have little in common with each other.
I will run through some of the similarities below.
I also suggest are some universal general principles to follow when running process improvement projects of all kinds and I summarise these at the end of the article.
1. Experts in their field
Alex Hamilton is a well known lawyer who set up Radiant Law, ‘the first fixed priced law firm specialising in commercial contracts’. Alex is a forward thinker who has lots of interesting ideas about the future of commercial contracting and the legal services profession generally.
I have engaged with Alex on social media occasionally because I am also interested in improving legal service delivery.
James Siekmann is a specialist short-game golf coach who has coached leading PGA (Professional Golfers Association) and LPGA (Lady Professional Golfers Association) golf professionals. He is an eight-time PGA section Teacher of the Year.
I have not engaged with Mr Siekmann on social media, largely because I am much more confident talking about legal project management and legal process improvement than I am about putting.
I am an average golfer (18 handicap). Far away from being a golf professional. As you may be picking up by now though, I am a very keen golfer and I am always looking to improve. Especially my putting.
2. Essential specialisms
Contract drafting and management appears a specialist field but, as Alex points out, contacts matter: practically every aspect of our lives are enabled and influenced by contracts made by someone, somewhere. Hence it’s important to get the process right.
The whole point of golf is to get the ball into the hole in fewest strokes as possible. By far the most strokes golfers take are putts (compared to say, drives off a tee). So having processes and skills which reduce the number of putts per round will result in lower overall scores.
3. Written for practitioners
Each book is very practical, showing readers how to improve. There is just passing reference and acknowledgement of process improvement methodologies (Lean, Six Sigma etc) in Alex’s book and none in James’s book.
Both authors share an appreciation that people are less interested in supporting methodologies than tools and practical advice to help them improve in certain activities.
Having said that it seems to me that each book draws upon elements of Lean and Six Sigma, as evidenced by the approach of assessing current processes, collecting data and then taking steps to improve as informed by the data.
4. A structured approach to process improvement
Both authors advocate structured approaches to improvement, and I will illustrate with a few examples below.
Understanding current processes and data collection
To understand current contracting processes Alex suggests creating Swimlane diagrams. I was pleased to see this.
I use Swimlane diagrams more than any other kind of diagram when investigating legal processes.
Swimlane diagrams can help illustrate so much. They are especially useful for highlighting the handover of work between teams and / or individuals. Often, it’s at the handover points where inefficiencies become most obvious.
Alex suggests that after creating the swimlane diagrams you should then collect data such as:
- How many deals you are doing
- The average time spent working on a deal at each stage and
- The average time a deal stays in each stage.
After collecting this data you can probably identify some ‘quick wins’ towards improving your contracting process and where you need to focus for longer term improvements.
It is important to understand what you are doing, or more likely, not doing, on the green to minimise the number of putts required to get the ball into the hole.
Translated into putting skills, this means that golfers must have the ability to:
- See (or feel) the correct (intended) line to the hole
- Start their ball on their intended line and
- Match the intended line with the right ball speed to get the ball in the hole.
With putting, James provides tests to help measure proficiency in the three fundamentals referred to above.
For example, when seeing how good you are at starting putts online the test is to put a small coin about 2 foot in front of you along the intended line and hit putts of around six feet in length while trying to roll the balls over the coin.
This should be done from 5 different locations, hence testing rolling putts uphill, downhill, sideways etc taking 5 putts each time.
If you can’t roll the ball over the coin 80% of the time from each location, there is something wrong with your putting stroke.
By way of illustration, I have created a simple check sheet to record and show results from the ball over a coin test.
A quick glance at this sheet shows where focus needs to be to improve performance most.
Creating improved processes and automating them
Alex explains what good contracting processes look like and how you can create and improve your own processes. He advocates continuous improvement, advancing by taking small steps one after another.
After you have improved contracting processes, it’s time to consider automating them. Automating legal processes, such as by implementing workflow technology, should cause improved productivity and increase in quality of output.
Alex is careful to point out there are no silver bullets, but he does give a lot of useful advice about what to look for when automating contract production and management.
If you watch professional golfers on TV you will notice they will all have a pre-shot routine, or standard process if you like. This includes having a routine on the greens. The way they assess their putts and take their putts will be the same each time. The details of each routine will be unique to each individual. Because of their routines they are quick when executing their shots and they execute with a clear mind – it’s almost as if they are automated.
James provides baseline templates for routines to use on the greens – he provides a 7 step pre-putt process for example. Obviously the routines should be tailored to individual preference.
Having a routine promotes consistency, which should translate into improved performance, especially if work has been done on improving the fundamental putting skills referred to earlier.
Interestingly, James also notes there are no silver bullets. Each golfer must be prepared to spend time and effort assessing their skills, improving them and developing their own unique putting routine.
5. Short and to the point
There is so much more to both of these books and I have barely done justice to them here. They are packed with a lot of information yet they are both short: Alex’s book runs to 117 pages and James’ runs to 159.
Needless to say I recommend both books, especially if you have an interest in improving legal processes and your golf!
Principles of process improvement projects
As I said at the beginning of this post, anything can be organised into ‘a project’ and most activities we do can be thought of as ‘a process’.
Contract management and putting are just two activities which can be performed better by following a structured approach to process improvement.
Broadly, a structured approach to process improvement, regardless of the activity under consideration can be summarised as:
- Understand what you are doing now in the activity concerned
- Collect data to help assess your performance
- Look for, and implement, ‘quick wins’ whenever possible based on the new understanding you have of your process after going through steps 1 and 2
- Identify areas where improvement will, for whatever reason, not happen quickly
- Draw up a plan to improve in these other areas and accept that improvements will take time and will most likely be incremental
- Commit to the plan but also acknowledge that, realistically, any of a multitude of things may crop up which means your improvement plan could be slowed down or even put on hold for a while. This is OK, so long as you keep to your commitment and return to your improvement plan.
To learn more about managing legal projects of various kinds, please sign up for one of my legal project management training courses.
To learn more about how to improve legal processes, please contact me about my new legal process improvement course, leading to the IILPM certification of Legal Process Improvement Professional (LPIP).
During the course I will explain how to create different kinds of process maps (not just swimlanes), how to conduct structured analysis of processes and how to begin improving those processes. I am also very keen, given my background in legal technology, to devote a session on how to go about automating processes.
As with my legal project management course, there will be plenty of hands-on exercises to do so you will get a feel for what it is like to apply key process improvement techniques.
Unfortunately, and believe me I say this with deepest regret, I am not a good enough putter myself to advise anyone about how to become a better putter. I wish I was. The best advice I can give is to buy a copy of James Siekmann’s book and / or go for some putting lessons with your local golf professional.