The participants in our new Certified Legal Project Manager™ program are analyzing how to apply best practices from other professions to their individual practices. In the first part of the program, they read key selections from six widely used reference books (including my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide). Several have noticed that the six authors organize the field of project management somewhat differently. Worse yet, these experts sometimes use different words for the same concepts.
In The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management, Erik Verzuh gives one example when he notes that the term “project charter can have two meanings” (p. 57). Some experts use the Project Management Institute’s definition: “a document that formally authorizes a project…and documents initial requirements” (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, p. 45). But other experts use the term project charter to refer to what Verzuh calls the statement of work, a list of “the goals, constraints, and success criteria for the project – the rules of the game” (p. 60).
This type of inconsistency can be frustrating to lawyers. That’s why we tell participants at the beginning of our program to forget about mastering the correct terminology. Where the experts disagree, there is no correct terminology. We recommend that people ignore troublesome discrepancies, and instead focus unrelentingly on identifying the ideas that could make the biggest difference to their individual practice.
Another challenge to participants in our program, or to anyone else who wants to understand legal project management, is inherent in the very nature of the field. As noted in a recent article in ACC Docket:
The concept of project management can apply to a multiyear construction project, involving…hundreds of suppliers and thousands of employees…[or] it can refer to a law firm’s simple commitment to "get you a draft contract by Friday, reflecting the term sheet you sent through yesterday, for a fixed price of $5,000."
The good news is that, as the ACC Docket article goes on to say, “project management has the breadth and flexibility to offer value in both of these scenarios and all points in between.” The bad news is that when you try to understand how the project management literature is relevant to your practice, it is easy to get distracted by concepts that do not fit the size or nature of the challenges you face.
Many widely-used project management textbooks were written to help prepare for the Project Management Institute’s exam for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate. But, according to the book PMP Exam Prep by Rita Mulcahy, that:
...Exam tests from the perspective of a large project…that involves 200 people from many countries, takes at least one year, has never been done before in the organization, and has a budget of US $100 million dollars or more (Sixth edition, p. 17).
Not exactly analogous to a typical matter for most lawyers.
So if you plan to read the project management literature from other fields, keep reminding yourself that legal project management is not a well-defined static body of knowledge. It is an evolving discipline, which is actively searching for new ways to meet legal needs more efficiently.
It can be frustrating to be a pioneer. But as the legal marketplace changes, there will be winners and losers. My money is on the pioneers to win.