For the past two months, I’ve walked through the complex process of buying legal technology, covering how important it is to align stakeholders and secure executive leadership support. I’ve also covered the importance of managing the inevitable changes by considering the people, process, technology, and data required to make the solution successful.
A technology purchase is not finished until the implementation is complete and users are trained and active on the system. For the purchase to be successful, you want to achieve the business outcomes that your executive leadership supported and that you rallied stakeholders around. This month, I’ll cover the final steps for successful implementation.
Plenty of books have been written about project management, and all the ins and outs of managing a project successfully would truly take a book to cover — but here are a few observations that I’ve come across in my career that can help ensure projects stay on track.
The Reason A Project Fails Is Almost Always Known Before The Project Starts
That is pretty much my universal experience, for any number of reasons. There wasn’t enough budget. The system may not scale. The AI can’t extract the data reliably. End users won’t follow the process to keep the data in the system usable. There wasn’t buy-in from executive leadership. A key assumption was never validated. The customer never wanted it. The solution wasn’t solving the right problem. Sure, there are some situations where the issue is obvious only in hindsight, but it was probably still knowable.
“News moves markets” is a saying in the financial world — having the right information in a timely manner can mean the difference of millions of dollars for a hedge fund or trader. I was involved in a project not long ago that relied on frequent updating of the system’s data to make it usable. The early releases were demonstrating that the system was functional. Like most projects, there were some delays and budget pressures — but the process of updating the data took too long, and the system was not ever going to be competitive because of that. In hindsight, this issue was a known risk before the project was ever started. Had the project plan managed the risk and addressed the issues prominently, the problem could have been solved, or the project could have been shut down before the entire budget was spent.
Attack And Manage The Risks Aggressively
Human nature takes over on project teams. Even the best teams will gravitate to what is comfortable and known. Larger issues and fundamental assumptions like the importance of data updates in the example above are easy to avoid or can be deprioritized by the team. Nobody wants to be bearer of bad news.
Clearly highlighting assumptions and risks at the beginning of a project is critical. Eric Ries’s “The Lean Startup” is a great resource for outlining how to manage project risks to focus on the important issues for success. Developing a plan to experiment and report out in short cadences as part of an agile process can solve many issues.
In the case of the data update issue mentioned above, a workstream and set of experiments could have been completed early in the project to prove out the risk. In that project, there was a different design approach that could have been taken to accommodate the updating requirements. Changing that design very early could have resulted in a different outcome for the project.
Project Management Is About Managing Risks, Not Tasks
One of the challenges with project management training is that it so often is about identifying tasks on a Gannt chart rather than managing risks. Identifying tasks, dependencies, and reporting out on progress is absolutely critical, but those are the table stakes.
Truly successful projects have project managers who possess strong emotional intelligence, understand how to evaluate risks, and can see beyond just tasks to what a project needs to succeed. Strong project managers are relentless and can sniff out a risk and call it out, whether it be an ill-defined requirement, a team member who is not skilled for the task or — in my case — a data updating issue.
The best project managers are also discerning. They know how to build relationships and understand that work gets done through people. They can get people to do the work they’re assigned, and can also get team members to do favors for each other. A “favor bank” is an informal accounting of favors that a strong project manager possesses. They will do things to help out others, and when the time comes that the project manager needs their own favor, they’ll reach into their favor bank to pull in that extra resource and keep a project on schedule.
Communicate Early And Often
Communication is critical amongst a team at all levels, all the way up to executive leadership. Communication is a process not an event. Memories fade quickly and if you aren’t in consistent and regular communication you can risk losing your team or worse, the executive leadership and stakeholder buy-in that you worked so hard to secure.
This includes risks and what may come across as “bad news.” Some risks are simply the unfounded fears of the project team. Quantifying risks help root out those fears from legitimate issues.
Let me use that pesky data updating issue as an example. A few team members are concerned that updating the data in the system could be a blocker. Communicating to management that a risk has been identified and that you are working to quantify whether it is real or not, will give your executive leadership confidence. Let’s say your team conducts a few experiments and together, you determine the issue is a legitimate blocker.
Human nature prompts us to avoid conflict. The team tries to figure things out and avoid having to share bad news — but the earlier issues are raised, the more options you will have to deal with them. In the case of the data updating issue, if it was found early enough, the design could have been changed. Management might have adjusted the budget and timing to remedy the issue, or the project manager may have been able to call in a few favors.
Navigating the complex buying process for legal technology is a long and challenging process. The rewards of successfully delivering outcomes for your organization are plenty and can help with career advancement.
There will be ups and downs. You may even encounter staff within your own organization that resist. With stakeholder alignment, executive leadership support, a solid plan that includes change management, and an implementation that effectively manages risks along the way, you are on your way to success!
Ken Crutchfield is Vice President and General Manager of Legal Markets at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory U.S., a leading provider of information, business intelligence, regulatory and legal workflow solutions. Ken has more than three decades of experience as a leader in information and software solutions across industries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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