For the past few months, we at Clocktimizer have been looking at how and why law firms must scale Legal Project Management (or LPM for short). LPM, like much project management, seeks to improve and (unsurprisingly) manage how law firms run matters. Better yet, LPM at scale reduces costs, increases profitability and improves client relationships. However, there are benefits to be had beyond matter management. LPM can also improve how your firm faces the challenges of the future. We spoke to Katja van Kranenburg, a partner at CMS, about how she uses LPM techniques to drive CMS’s research and development goals.

What LPM offers R&D

Fundamentally, LPM works on the basis of scoping a challenge and identifying what the project intends to achieve. Then, it leverages tools and data to maintain oversight and deliver cost effectively. As such, it is effective at more than just case management. Research and Development (R&D) is vital to the evolving law firm. Identifying new tools and developing proprietary software helps firms become more competitive. They also improve customer service and strengthen client relationships.

However, law firms are not software companies. Managing the development of these new ideas can be difficult and expensive without good management. By using LPM techniques, development projects can be managed well, with a strong focus on the challenges and innovations being faced. Accordingly, firms can ensure their R&D projects have the best possible chance of success. And let’s face it, there’s nothing more frustrating than badly designed technology.

R&D at CMS with Katja van Kranenburg

CMS is certainly ahead of the curve in this respect. Katja van Kranenburg, a Partner in their Amsterdam office, has been running a number of R&D projects using LPM principles which she applies to her other matters. For CMS, R&D is about identifying how innovation can improve the services the law firm provides to their clients. This could be about the quality of the advice offered, but it could be about improving how the firm communicates with clients or manages the matters themselves.

One of the key challenges facing firms developing new technology has been ensuring they do not become bulky, expensive projects. Having handled this problem in her matters by using LPM, Katja has brought these techniques over to her development work. One of the first changes she made was to ensure potential solutions are properly scoped before getting started. In doing so she has avoided bloated projects which fail to address the initial problem being solved.

The second key technique Katja has introduced is in properly managing projects once they are underway. This ensures that, once the viability of a project is determined, it can remain agile and responsive to challenges as they appear in the development cycle.

The questions essential to scoping success

Having listened to Katja explain the importance of scoping, we took down some tips for fellow LPMs. After all, where should one start? And how do you even determine the scope of an R&D project? According to Katja, it is about asking the right questions.

  1. What is the challenge and innovation being faced?
    1. Can you really explain what you are working on succinctly? If not, are you sure you understand the project’s focus?
  2. What are the key features needed to do so?
    1. For each challenge, what feature corresponds? Does it need to work alone, or can it be integrated?
  3. Can technology currently address these features?
    1. For this, seek out experts. Does the technology exist? Is it likely to any time soon? If not, why not?
  4. Will clients use the solution/tool in its proposed form?
    1. Far too many of us forget our client research. Consider more than sending out a survey. Involving clients in a focus group is likely to make them more invested in the project, and the project itself to better satisfy their requirements.
  5. How can you involve the end users in the development of the solution?
    1. An end product is only as useful as its design process. Get your clients involved and ensure their feedback is incorporated in the design.
  6. Who are the stakeholders needed to carry out this project and how can you educate yourself on what they bring to the table?
    1. No design process is an island. You are likely to need to bring technical or design team members on board. Before you do so, you should invest time in understanding what they know and why they are important. It will ensure the project tasks are better delegated and integrated with each other.

Three LPM tips to keep your project on track

Unfortunately, scoping your project is only half of the battle. Once underway, LPM techniques are essential to keep any R&D project working to the challenges and avoiding bulk. Katja shared three key techniques she uses to ensure her project’s success.

First and foremost, use technology to help keep you on track. Tools like Clocktimizer can provide oversight and ensure projects are running to schedule. By reading and categorising timecard information, you can get good oversight on project progress based on tasks. Additionally, collaborative working tools can ensure the time you are spending is more efficiently used. Shared workspaces like Slack keep project communications in one place. Joint documents ensure there is no confusion between which version is the most current. Either way, technology is your friend and can both streamline processes and offer project oversight.

Embrace Agile working. For those unfamiliar, we have written a full introduction to Agile in a previous blog here. In short, Agile working involves breaking large projects down into smaller tasks. These tasks are then individually scoped (to identify their complexity, who must work on them, and the business reasons behind them). These tasks are then allocated to week, or two week long ‘sprints’. As such, it provides a flexible way of working which can be changed sprint by sprint in response to the project’s demands. If a solution isn’t working, or the end user isn’t happy, then Agile LPM allows you to identify this quickly and change course preventing projects getting bogged down in sunk costs.

Finally, it is essential to maintain a link between technical and non-technical personnel so that both are able to understand potential problems for the project and work together to find solutions for them. In order to do so, both need to have some understanding of the role and skills of the other. Cross-functional knowledge and the ability to listen and communicate are decisive elements if you want innovative projects to succeed.

Are you ready to scale LPM?

LPM at scale. It is about making your firm not only more cost effective, but also about improving client relationships and even developing new tools. Better yet, as our blog series shows, it is not the personnel heavy, time consuming task many think it is. We believe good LPM is key to ensuring the longevity and success of firms in the future. Learning from pioneers like Katja van Kranenburg, and implementing her advice, should be the next step for any firm.

To help in that goal we are putting together this LPM series of blogs into an e-book. We will release this in the coming weeks on our website, free to download. Follow our social media on Twitter or Linkedin for more information. We also wish to extend a huge thank you to Katja for sharing her words of wisdom!