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The Ultimate Answer to: ‘What Project Management Approach is Best for Legal & Consulting Companies?’

Feb 23, 2017 1:51:34 PM

When we meet with legal and management consulting firms that are looking to either adopt or expand project management process to best support their client engagements, we usually get asked the same question:

“Which project management approach, PMBOK, PRINCE2, SCRUM, Agile etc. etc. should we adopt and how should we implement this?”

All of these solutions are surrounded with complex ecosystems and industries worth billions of dollars who are all keen to sell you training, certification, consulting, templates software etc…

With such established industry comes total commitment and dedication to the ‘one best’ project management solution sometimes to the point of total indoctrination.

Now I am not at all saying that these solutions are no good or that ours ‘is the new best thing’ – on the contrary.

Our response to this question is always the same:

“The methods and solution you need to apply is the best way to address the needs of the project in-hand”

You are probably now thinking ‘that’s not very useful Doug, I was hoping this blog would help me land the best way forward’ – but please bear with me a little longer.

The key to successful project delivery is not to define how to achieve the project by the tools or solution you have globally chosen. Many projects focus on following workflows and steps with the view that this will deliver them a successful project & a consistent measurable company approach – sadly this is rarely the case - the average is an 80% failure rate.

For projects that have a straightforward and known outcome such as software development or manufacturing a fixed step workflow approach works very well and can easily be repeated from project to project with integrated quality improvement processes like 6 Sigma & TQM.

We know because we follow such a process for our software development with huge success, but would we apply this to a client consultancy project with an unknown outcome – ‘hell no!’.

For consultancy based companies the real answer to project success lies in clearly understanding and defining what needs to be undertaken and then selecting the best method and solution to achieve this. So often what is required for a project won’t fit into a standard workflow and by starting with the workflow rather than the first principal question of ‘what needs to be achieved’ the project is doomed from the start.

The good news is that as a professional lawyer or consultant, you already have the experience and skill set to apply to this question. All you are lacking is the understanding of which tool to select to deliver the project based on your assessment of what needs to be achieved. Understanding the best project approach is all you are missing to successfully apply a project based outcome.

How you standardise this approach can only be determined after you have met the specific needs of a number of projects – with volatile scopes & outcomes you will never meet success by selecting the standard first & then try to fit the projects to it.

How can I make such a statement?

I have been employed on many occasions to recover a project that has been in a major mess. Although I apply many methods to these projects, which I will bring to you in future blogs. The overriding and consistent approach I apply to all these projects is to obtain an answer to the following questions:

  1. Clearly define what the outcome is, this may seem obvious, but you ask a project team and you nearly always get a different answer and no it’s not the scope!
  2. The baseline – the one thing on a project that will never change. If you clearly define the baseline, ie: the starting point then you can only ever move forward from there. Projects that do not define this never address what needs doing and can rarely hit the end point;
  3. With the baseline defined, what needs to be undertaken at a high level to achieve the outcome;
  4. Starting with the most critical first, what steps need to be taken. In my experience, focus on the critical first and the likelihood is that once these are addressed you will have revised the next steps anyway.

So when tackling these projects, what tools do I use?

Following a clearly defined project baseline, the second most important thing always is to get the information you need when you need it and to ensure it is accurate. How you do this is subject to the project in hand, but it is why I built an accurate eDiscovery solution for my projects.

Now I have walking into projects that have spent millions on systems & even more on dedicated teams to fill them. When faced with a project in disaster, companies still cling to the approach they have chosen in the hope it will come good. When you analyse these solutions you always find the same thing. The project has changed and the system or approach is either narrow or rigid and cannot address the change, so teams spend many hours manually feeding these systems ill-fitting data in the blind hope the answer will pop out the other side.

Across all these projects I have applied the above questions, established a great accurate information flow and quickly established a flexible recovery solution with clear lines of responsibility, a good collaboration & action management solution and the rest through excel spreadsheets & word documents. I have never yet recovered a project using the originally selected ‘industry standard’ method or solutions.

So, the thought I leave you with is this, using a project management approach does not need to be complex. Start with what you already know well and define the problem & outcome.

Then find and apply the right tool to achieve this.

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