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3 posts from October 2018

October 31, 2018

Four approaches to business process improvement (part 2 of 2)

By Jim Hassett and Tom Kane, LegalBizDev

Approach #3: Five steps to improve any business process

Step 1: Make a very quick list of the most critical processes that you want to consider.

If you don’t know where to begin, use the standard task codes described on the UTBMS website. For example, a litigator focused on the discovery phase of cases could begin with these six tasks:

  • Written discovery
  • Document production
  • Depositions
  • Expert discovery
  • Discovery motions
  • Other discovery

 Step 2: Pick one process to focus on first.

It is important to begin with the process that is most likely to allow you to meet your goals, which of course means that you have to be very clear about what your goals are. When you have several goals in mind, you could start by constructing a “process selection matrix” like the one below to make your choice.

Process_Table

In this example, there are three different goals, all are rated on a scale from 1 (low) to 5 (high), and the lawyer considers them equally important in selecting a process. Therefore, the last column, the total rating, can be used to determine that your process improvement should begin with the deposition process because it has the highest total rating.

Step 3: Define exactly what is included in the process. Where does it begin and end? Then break it down into five to ten high level parts.

Step 4: Decide which step to redesign first.

Again, the step you choose depends on your goals. The following questions from Improving Business Processes may help you to make your choice:

  • At which points does this process break down or experience delays?
  • At which points do people typically experience frustration with the process?
  • Which parts of the process seem to consume an inordinate amount of time?
  • Which parts of the process lead to low-quality outcomes?
  • Which parts of the process incur unacceptable costs?

Step 5: Think through the details of the step you will redesign, and look for ways to increase efficiency, e.g. by simplifying the process, creating a checklist, and/or focusing more clearly on the factors that the client values most highly. Define action items and implement them.

 

Approach #4: 10 steps to improve critical business processes

These 10 steps are explained in detail in Susan Page’s book, The Power of Business Process Improvement. Here, they have been adapted and simplified for legal matters.

Step 1: Develop the process inventory. List all the big picture processes within a particular legal area, establish criteria for prioritizing them, and pick the one you want to start with. (The discovery tasks in the table above provide a good example.)

Step 2: Establish the foundation. Write a scope definition document that defines the problem you need to solve and provides a blueprint for the start and the end of your process improvement.

Step 3: Draw the process map. Identify each activity with a specific action word (e.g. create, review, develop, approve, update, or communicate), and then diagram the steps in a form that can be communicated to everyone involved. Be sure to include handoffs to other lawyers, staff, clients, and others.

Step 4: Estimate time and cost. Specify what is involved in each stage or activity in the process, how long it usually takes, and what it costs.

Step 5: Verify the process map. Ask other stakeholders to review the process map for accuracy. This provides a baseline to begin improvement.

Step 6: Apply improvement techniques. This is where the rubber meets the road. Eliminate bureaucracy, evaluate value added activities, eliminate duplication and redundancy, simplify processes, reports, and forms, reduce cycle time, and more.

Step 7: Create internal controls, tools, and metrics. Create controls to avoid errors, tools to support the new business process, and metrics to quantify improvements.

Step 8: Test and rework. Pilot test the new process, identify any issues, and rework them before introducing the new, improved process on a wide scale.

Step 9: Implement the change. Just as businesses develop marketing plans before they introduce a new product, they must plan how to implement business process changes, including “who has to know about the change, what they need to know, and how to communicate the right information to the right people.”

Step 10: Drive continuous improvement. After the change succeeds, you will still need to invest in maintenance. Evaluate, test, assess, and execute to sustain any required change.

 

Implementing your improved business process

All four approaches have value in different situations, and all take advantage of the 80/20 rule to maximize the benefits you will receive while minimizing the time it will take.

If you want to use these approaches in your own personal practice, you should be able to identify improvements quickly. But if you want to get other lawyers in your group to do the same thing, that’s a lot harder.

Whether you use approach 1, 2, 3, or 4, or you go out and buy Page’s book for more detail, or you hire an outside consultant, figuring out how to improve legal business processes is not the hard part.

The hard part is getting lawyers to do it. For ways to combat typical objections, see “Overcoming Resistance to Legal Project Management: A List of Suggestions for Law Firm Project Management Champions.”

Reproduced with permission from the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, Fourth Edition (© LegalBizDev, 2017).

October 17, 2018

Four approaches to business process improvement (Part 1 of 2)

By Jim Hassett and Tom Kane

Traditionally, lawyers have been trained to place enormous emphasis on avoiding risk, and little or no emphasis on increasing efficiency. As Ron Friedman put it:

Clients often want to know if there are any major risks: “Let me know if there are any boulders in this playing field.” Lawyers often hear that and think they need to find not just the boulders, but also the pebbles. The fear of being wrong—and of malpractice—runs deep. “Perfection thinking” makes it hard to approximate, to apply the 80-20 rule, [or] to guide in the right direction but with some imprecision.

But as in-house departments are increasingly pressured to control costs, they in turn are pressuring outside law firms to find ways to increase efficiency. Business process improvement is one path to the lower costs that many clients are demanding.

There is no shortage of theories, tactics, or opinions about the best way to increase efficiency, and hundreds of books and articles have been written on business process improvement and related techniques. Many of these systems have become so complicated and demanding that you can earn an MBA in the field, supporting what Susan Page called “the myth that business process improvement must be time consuming and complex” in her book The Power of Business Process Improvement.

This two-part blog series describes four approaches to business process improvement that we have developed with lawyers to increase legal efficiency quickly, listed in order of ease of use. We recommend that most lawyers start with Approach #1, which is limited to two simple questions. For critical, time consuming, and repetitive processes, we outline three increasingly sophisticated options which require more time, but can be more effective in simplifying the way you handle legal matters.

Approach #1: Two questions to improve a business process

Ask yourself:

  1. Of all the things you do for clients, what legal work provides the biggest opportunity to deliver greater value quickly or to increase efficiency?
  2. What could you do to improve this process?

Then do it.

Yes, this is so simple that it sounds trivial. But if in fact you stop and think about where inefficiencies lie, and act on what you already know, chances are you can increase efficiency very quickly.

No, it isn’t brain surgery, but for some lawyers, Approach #1 is a great way to get started. If you prefer an approach that is a bit more detailed, consider this longer list of questions.

Approach #2: 10 questions to improve a business process

  1. What steps and activities are typically included in this process?
  2. Which steps and activities does the client value most?
  3. Which steps and activities do not add value, and could be eliminated?
  4. Could you standardize and/or streamline the process?
  5. Could you reduce or eliminate repetition?
  6. Could you reduce or eliminate bottlenecks?
  7. Could you improve communication within the team and/or with clients?
  8. Could you reduce cost by delegating some tasks to junior staff who bill at lower rates?
  9. Could you reduce cost by “delegating up” some tasks to senior staff who can complete a task quickly at a low total cost?
  10. Could you reduce cost through legal process outsourcing of selected tasks to another law firm or a legal support services company in the US or in another country?

Part 2 of this series will describe two additional approaches.

October 03, 2018

Personal time management

By Jim Hassett

The simplest way to increase productivity is to manage your time better. While many time management techniques sound like common sense, that does not mean they are easy to implement.

In his widely used textbook on Project Management, Harold Kerzner suggests that you start by focusing on four key questions:

  • “What am I doing that I don’t have to do at all?
  • What am I doing that can be done better by someone else?
  • What am I doing that could be done as well by someone else?
  • Am I establishing the right priorities for my activities?”

If you need work in this area, identify troublesome areas:

  • How often are you interrupted?
  • How do you manage disruptions?
  • Can you section off blocks of solid work time?
  • Do you make “to do” lists and prioritize them?
  • Do you have a flexible work schedule?
  • Do you complete your work during regular work hours?
  • Do you micromanage?
  • Do you take on all tasks yourself?
  • Can you say “no?”

Plan how to avoid situations that can waste your time, including:

  • Poorly completed work that must be re-done
  • Phone calls, email, mail, casual office talk
  • Lack of delegation or improper delegation
  • Information that is not easy to find or use
  • Too many review cycles or layers of approval
  • Multiple meetings that aren’t useful
  • Postponing your work
  • Unclear goals or objectives
  • Excessive paperwork
  • Too little time and too much work
  • Lack of authority to make decisions or too many levels of decision making
  • Only dealing with crises
  • Perfectionism
  • Poor organization

Identify the time management techniques that will work best for you, including:

  • Manage your stress
  • Prioritize your tasks
  • Organize
  • Follow your schedule
  • Avoid useless memos, travel, conversations, emails
  • Don’t procrastinate
  • Do the hard parts first
  • Start as soon as possible
  • Carve out blocks of time for important things
  • Delegate wisely
  • Give attention only to items that need it
  • Don’t let others give up and pass off tasks on to you. Help them to figure out how to accomplish their own tasks, if necessary.

Effective time management begins with taking a single step. Identify one or two action items from the list above, and start today.

 

Some of this material has been adapted from the Fourth Edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.