Slicing the Pie: Making Choices on Time and Project Management

Topics: Client Relations, Law Firms, Legal Innovation, Legal Managed Services, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, practice engineering, Small Law Firms Blogs

project management

The Thanksgiving and Festive Seasons feature many wonderful things. Time with family, an opportunity to reflect and show gratitude for our health and blessings, and, perhaps most importantly, lots of yummy, delicious pies! Arguably, one of the most perplexing and difficult challenges of the season might be deciding when, where and how much of those delectable pumpkin, blueberry and apple pies to indulge!

Legal technology leaders face similar issues every day — not with pies, but with time and projects. When and where to spend one’s time in an ever-changing business landscape can be an exceptionally difficult choice. Are security issues or operations more important? Business process improvement or innovation? Building new applications or supporting existing systems? Truth be known, all of these, and many more, are important. Yet, not unlike all of us at the holiday dinner table, effective technology leadership requires that we balance conflicting demands and process and ingest enough of each to satisfy the needs of the organism.

What are some guidelines to help with these allocations? There is no perfect answer, but here’s one person’s opinion.

Introduction

The assumption of reasonability must be injected into these discussions. Taylor Hall is the best New Jersey Devils forward, but he cannot play the entire game. It just doesn’t work that way. A coach has to decide whether to use him 5-on-5, on the powerplay or on the penalty kill. You cannot pick all three. Choices must be made. Same for the technology field. There are not enough hours in a day to get to everything one might wish to tackle.

Security

This is an area which is trending up and could become all-consuming. Law firms are trusted to be good custodians of client data; and the needs and challenges are ever changing. Developing a strong, comprehensive security plan, executing it and keeping your finger on the pulse in this area is a must — more than that, it is critically essential to your organization that you do.

Application Support

In the ideal world, this is an area which should be trending down. Migrating your email, office suite and documentation management system to the cloud can slash the amount of time a technology leader needs to spend in this area. Letting other professionals operate these functions for you can free one up for other, more-important tasks.

project management

Innovation

This should be marked as double-trending up! Technology leaders should be aware of new options in the marketplace and have enough knowledge of internal operations and client requests to marry the two — partner with management —and use their creative skills to envision and deliver tools to improve and enhance client service and work product.

Tactical Tasks

This should be trending down. Of course, no one is claiming day-to-day technology support is not important. Of course, it is. But some needs can be handled with Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and Help Desk services. Implementation is not a slam dunk; MSPs need to be trained and managed. But effective deployment of MSPs frees up time for other activities.

Training

This one in my view is trending up. Yes, training can be outsourced; but I believe when the trainers have an intimate knowledge of the operation they support, the efforts can be more targeted and effective. This, by the way, relates to many areas: Application Training, Security Training, Awareness of New Technology, Development of IT Professionals and more. Make time for this!

Niche Projects

This is a huge trend downward. Avoid the urge to work on items with limited value to your organization. Do not accept projects just because someone yells the loudest or complains the most — and don’t spend the majority of your time working for a few people. Direct your efforts to company- or firm-wide activities with the most bang-for-buck for both your organization and your clients.

Process Improvements

This is a big trend upward. There are plenty of opportunities in the legal field to identify process improvements, teach and employ solid legal project management (LPM) principles and facilitate the type of change that will result in long-term gains. Technology leaders hone and develop project management skills every day — and applying these skills to legal projects is a huge win!

Managing Large Volumes of Data

This needs to be trending downward. Accommodating terabytes of data you do not need is a huge waste of time. Work to rationalize data, encourage the prompt filing of emails and documents and develop a records management program for your enterprise. There is more to life than copying and syncing 25 terabytes of data with Amazon Web Services or Azure.

Wrap-Up

I could go on and on, but I think the point is clear. Remember you cannot eat five slices of pie at a sitting (at least not for long) and you cannot play Taylor Hall a full 30 minutes a game. Pick the flavor you like the most, and keep Mr. Hall off the penalty kill team. Those are both sustainable, intelligent approaches that take the concepts of constraints and optimization into account.

As it relates to our profession, strive to align your individual efforts to support the goals of your organization. Hopefully your mandate from management, like mine, is to provide excellent client service, create pristine work product, act as a guardian of firm and client data, and apply technological changes and innovation to client needs and operational projects in an efficient manner.

But, whatever your priorities are, tailor your time allocation and focus accordingly. Yours might be different from mine. But one thing will be the same, that’s for sure — no one can do it all. But the best among us can make the appropriate calls to be sure we take on those most vital projects and those that rank as the most significant to our enterprise.

That’s what is most important.