There is a lot of interest in project management by law firm information professionals (i.e professionals working in law firm libraries and knowledge management), which is why I was invited to speak at a conference last week promoted by Managing Partner magazine. The conference, ‘Managing your law firm library and information services’, is now in its 5th year.
It soon became clear, listening to other speakers and networking with delegates, that project-based work does indeed loom large in the life of an information professional in a law firm. Many of the speakers referred, either directly or indirectly, to the need for project management skills.
Inspired by Ron Friedmann’s work at a similar conference in the USA (see Ron’s post here), I thought it would be interesting to find out more about how information professionals in law firms regard project management and its relevance to their daily work. So I prepared a short questionnaire and asked delegates to complete it during my presentation (and thanks again to all those at the conference who did so).
The list of the questions, and summaries of respondent answers, are provided below. The left (vertical) axis of each chart lists the percentage of answers received per question compared to total number of respondents (not every respondent completed every question). Anonymity was guaranteed and answers provided were the personal views of the respondents.
I think that, even with the usual caveats that apply to surveys, the data provides an interesting snap-shot view of the relationship between the type of work law firm information professionals are most often engaged in and the discipline of project management.
Questions 1 & 2: Which projects have you spent most time on during the last year? Which projects do you think have a strategic fit with your organisation?
I used Ron’s project categorization for these questions with the minor variation of listing ‘document assembly’ as a distinct category by itself.
The snap-shot survey confirms that there has been a lot of process improvement activity in UK law firms during the last twelve months or so, with work in connection with AFA’s / Budgeting / LPM not far behind. With hindsight, which we all know is a wonderful thing, I would have liked to have gone a little deeper into the AFA / Budget / LPM categorisation, as this can cover a very wide range activity in practice.
Also note that although many respondents thought that ‘matter management’ was of strategic importance to their firm, no-one who took part in the survey had spent any time in this area during the last 12 months.
Of course some people may be working on things not provided for in the list I handed out, and so I left space on the form for people to include these other things too. Here are the ‘other things’ that some respondents had spent some time on:
Question 3: How much direct influence do you think you have on your firm’s business strategy?
The information professionals surveyed believe that they have relatively little influence on their law firm strategy, yet, as shown by the answers to question 2 above, they are usually engaged on projects which they believe are of strategic value to their firm.
Question 4: How would you assess your firm’s organisational Project Delivery Capability (PDC)?
I have written about project delivery capability (PDC) before. Essentially this is a model which can be used to assess an organisation’s project maturity and, in particular, its ability to deliver real business benefits via its projects.
Level 1 capability – is represented by executive complacency, project teams doing their own thing.
Level 2 capability – sees the imposition of processes focused on measuring activity rather than outcomes. The business imposes forms, requirements and check lists; ‘methodology police’ enforce a one-size-fits-all policy.
Level 3 capability – sees the organisation gaining sufficient experience and confidence to allow measured flexibility into its processes for managing projects. However, project success still tends to be measured in terms of time, cost and scope at the end of the project rather than the benefits gained by the organisation.
Level 4 capability – rather than focusing on project outputs, the work of the project is seen as a key enabler needed to achieve valuable business outcomes. Ownership of this value chain is vested in the business, the role of projects and project management is to support this overall effort by delivering the outputs best suited to achieving the business objective.
Level 5 capability – expands on Level 4 with the whole PDC system focused on efficiently supporting the strategic objectives of the business.
Question 5: How would you assess your personal project management capability?
Which seems like a reasonable enough distribution curve.
Question 6: Have you ever received any formal project management training?
This for me was the really big surprise. Just over 70% of the respondents have not had any formal project management training. Yet as is clear from the answers to question 2 above, many information professionals either lead, or are heavily involved with, projects which are of strategic importance to their firms.
Question 7: How useful might you find a Kanban board for your current projects?
During my presentation I briefly explained how to create and use Kanban boards as aids for managing projects. I’m pleased to see that a clear majority of respondents think Kanban boards could have a useful part to play in their daily work.
Obviously this is a small snap-shot survey and far from being definitive about the work of U.K law firm information professionals. Nevertheless the snap-shot does illustrate the range of work law firm information professionals become involved in and shows they consider much of their work to be of strategic importance to their firm. Given the importance to lawyers of sourcing information, converting that information into knowledge and then deploying that knowledge for the benefit of their clients, few would disagree with this assessment.
All the more surprising therefore that relatively few law firm information professionals have received any kind of formal project management training. As with many other professional groups, project management is playing an increasingly large role in their daily work. This is also confirmed by some of the comments respondents left in the ‘comments’ section of my questionnaire form, such as:
“Most of my work is project based so [my presentation] is very relevant”
“An awful lot of what I do seems to include elements of project management now!”
“[Project Management is] crucial for developing role and accepting new responsibilities for firm-wide projects involving staff in multiple departments and teams”.
In light of the above the message to law firms should be: please make sure your information professionals receive proper project management training. The vast majority of the staff concerned would welcome the opportunity to develop their project skills further. Moreover many of them are de facto project managers working on projects of strategic importance, so why not increase the likelihood of project success by ensuring that your staff are properly trained?