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Project Delivery Capability and Capturing Value from Legal Project Management

It is relatively easy to point out where value can be generated by applying Legal Project Management.  For organisations which have good project delivery capability capturing that value should be routine, while for others it will appear a more difficult exercise.  Many sectors of industry and commerce have found that running initiatives as “projects” does not of itself guarantee that organisations will be able to capture “benefits” which translate into bottom line “value”.  Perhaps it is this, the perceived difficulty of capturing project value, which for some militates against incorporating Legal Project Management as part of their law firm strategy and so openly committing time and resources to it?  The irony however is that the chance of capturing project value rises significantly once a more strategic approach is taken to project design and delivery.

Project Delivery Capability (PDC) is a term used to refer to an organisation’s ability to generate value from successful project design and implementation.  The PDC model offers an explanation why organisations fail to reap value from projects and has allowed commentators to suggest means of improvement, usually involving improved project governance, senior executive support and cultural change.  According to this model, organisations can be classed as being in one of 5 levels of project maturity, with the least mature being poorest at capturing project value.

It seems that most organisations can be classed as at Level 2.  Typically at level 2 organisations there is a lot of project governance, with focus on specific project outcomes rather than commercial benefits, and the cost of the project governance tends to cancel out any value gained.  Projects are managed in such a way that ROI most often appears to be neutral.  Value capture and return on investment from projects begins to be seen in organisations with level 3 PDC and rises exponentially through levels 4 and 5.  Overall, the view from a PDC modelling perspective has been summarised as:

Doing projects ‘right’ is a Level 2 phenomena, doing the ‘right projects, right’ is Level 3, the optimum is Levels 4 and 5 where the right projects are done for the right strategic reasons.

So what has all this got to do with law firms?  You may say that law firms, unlike construction companies for example, do not need to place great emphasis on their PDC as ultimately they are not judged on this.  True enough up to a point although I think they should be, and increasingly will be, judged on their PDC especially if this more directly equates with effective delivery of legal services.  The interesting thing for me about the PDC model is the emphasis placed on organisational maturity with a project based appreciation of organisational strategy allied with focused project implementation.  The missing link if you like, from recognising the value of managed projects (level 2) to actually capturing and realising that value (levels 3 and above) is a strategic approach to project identification, creation and delivery.  Arguably most law firms do not seem to have these project-related strategic skills in-house, which is unsurprising given the traditional view that they are not judged on PDC as such.

Just as there are several different types of fee earner, who operate differently in comparison to one another, there are several different types of project managers and types of project management practised.  My quick, and purely personal, classification of these types:

Project Schedulers – perhaps this is how most people view project managers, as people whose primary role is to book resources in to perform tasks on time and within budget.  Invariably, schedulers like to be given the project scope and they will happily work within that and follow all project governance rules.

Technical Project Managers – people who have some technical knowledge themselves (in software development for example) and feel comfortable managing teams of highly skilled technicians and making day to day decisions which affect the extent of delivery against compared to project scope (within tolerated guidelines).

Programme Managers – people who are adept at running several projects at a time and allocating resources and risks between them.  This class of project manager will not only keep the commercial objectives in mind, but will make sure that all the projects running are, collectively, focused on delivering commercial value.

Strategic Project Managers – some would say I am splitting hairs here, and would categorise the strategic function as falling within the role of Programme Manager.  I concede the role of Programme Manager is recognised more widely than that of Strategic Project Manager, but the distinction I am trying to make is between the identification, creation and scoping of projects to further commercial aims and their effective implementation.

I’d suggest that law firms are most familiar with the roles and functions of the first two project manager types.  IT departments found in mid-sized law firms and upwards will invariably have some project management capability and, not unreasonably, the principal aim is to complete projects on time, within budget and in compliance with technical standards.  Also, as noted in a previous post, successful fee earners of all kinds must exhibit some of the traits of the schedule and technical oriented project managers simply to manage their case load effectively.  For many lawyers I believe a move to more formal application of well known project management techniques, such as those associated with scheduling and resource allocation for example, could be done comfortably after some training.

Arguably the missing link to improved (legal) PDC has been the relatively poor strategic appreciation by law firms about the role project management can play to achieve organisational objectives, including the optimal design and execution of relevant projects. Some of the larger US based law firms have recently started to appoint Directors of “Pricing and Project Management” (or roles with very similar titles).  It seems this kind of role is designed to fill the missing link, between recognising where value lies in Legal Project Management and ensuring that value is captured.  Pricing of products and services goes to the very heart of value creation and retention, and is undoubtedly one of the key elements of any law firm’s strategy.  Establishing the direct link between pricing and successful project delivery is likely to have a much swifter positive impact on an organisation’s legal PDC than starting with creating (or improving) project governance structures and other overt means of organisational support.  Presumably organisational support for increased legal PDC will follow as a matter of course, when seen as necessary to extract value for the firm from the pricing and delivery of its services.  Although, to kick-start this process, law firms need access to the right blend of skills to initiate, and thereafter leverage, a more strategic approach to project creation and delivery.

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