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March 13, 2013

Six ways LPM improved our practice

By Elizabeth Harris, Harris Cost Lawyers

This guest post was written by one of the first lawyers to complete our Certified Legal Project Manager® program.  Liz’s initial experience was described in this blog in May 2011.   I asked her to write this piece to report on results since then for the third edition of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide (to be published on May 20).


Since I began focusing on LPM, our practice has improved in six major ways:

Liz_Harris21.      Setting and defining the scope. We undertake work on a fixed fee basis and in the past the scope was often not clearly agreed and defined. Our expectations often differed from those of the client regarding the work which was to be included within the fixed fee, and scope creep could easily develop. By improving the way we define scope at the beginning of every matter, we have been able to make fixed fee work far more profitable.

2.      Identifying and scheduling tasks. The identification of tasks is particularly important, as the failure to identify actions which will be required affects both the fee which is set and the schedule of work. In the past, work had been held up because dependencies had not been identified and there were consequential delays in waiting for predecessor activities to be completed. By focusing upfront on identifying and scheduling tasks, we have been able to reduce the number of situations in which a failure to identify all the activities to be undertaken resulted in the fixed fee being too low and the schedule blown out. With more planning, we have a better understanding of what the finished product should look like, and work breakdown structures have helped us to formulate better estimates.

3.      Planning and managing the budget. We have considerable control to introduce changes in the way work is undertaken, including who performs particular aspects of the work. In the past, we did not sufficiently consider this when planning the budget. Nor did we take into account the level of expertise of the person undertaking the work and the fact that the time likely to be spent on the task would vary depending on the person’s experience. There was also little management of the budget as the matter progressed. By devoting more attention to planning and management, we have been able to identify potential problems much earlier in the process, and thus reduce the number of instances where the budget has been exceeded.

4.      Assessing risks to the budget and schedule. Before we started focusing on LPM, we did not assess budget and schedule risks at the beginning of a matter. Risks can be both internal and external and often we are asked to give estimates by someone who has little understanding of the background to the matter and can therefore give us only very limited instructions. We have developed checklists of possible risks and questions to be asked to identify them. A brainstorming session with all team members often goes a long way to addressing this issue.

5.      Negotiating changes of scope. In the past, most of our descriptions of the scope of work were far too general and therefore gave us little ability to negotiate changes to the scope. We have since trained our lawyers to better define scope in the first place and be more aware of changes as a matter proceeds. We have also focused on promptly speaking with the client when there is a change of scope.

6.      Conducting end of matter reviews. Before we began focusing on LPM, we did not take the time to undertake end of matter reviews. We now conduct them frequently, and as a result are learning from our experience and introducing process improvements to enhance future performance.

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Comments

It is nice to read your post of “potential problems much earlier in the process”. I am interested in "the way work is undertaken, including who performs particular aspects of the work." Can you indicate some examples of specific potential problems, how to evaluate these costs. Base on your experience, is there a summery for obvious variance or ways to led customers to a fixed track that can avoid changes. Please advise.

Juliet - Your question is rather broad, but I asked Liz Harris to comment, and she said:

"The risks and potential problems are specific to the matter/work type. But end of matter reviews help identify these , for reference in future matters. In relation to your query re ways which can lead a client to a fixed track that can avoid changes, communication is the key. Providing a client with a written project plan, and getting the client's buy-in to the proposed plan and approach, reduces the likelihood of future change."

- jim

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