Succesful Role Definition in EDPM

One of the ways you can ensure success for any type of project (including an e-discovery project) is by making sure that you have the right people doing the tasks that they are best suited to do and do well. Today, I want to explore how to successfully define the project team roles for litigation / e-discovery projects. I will begin by saying that we can not rely or depend on the traditional roles: attorney, paralegal, litigation support specialist, project assistant, secretary, IT person (which could be application specialist, network engineer, help desk specialist) or trainer.

Traditional project management roles include: sponsor, team leader, SME (subject matter expert), project manager, stake holder… these don’t exactly work either.

It is going to be important to define who’s doing what and when before litigation strikes or at the very latest, very early in the case. The EDRM describes the project management team to include the corporate client, the law firm and the service provider (vendor). Within each organization someone is identified as the project manager. However, what happens next gets pretty fuzzy because then everyone wants to fall back on their traditional roles or job titles to define the project team roles.

So how can we take the standard list of project team roles and the traditional law firm/client/vendor relationship and redesign it to work better for e-discovery projects?

There is an increasing trend in the industry today that is looking for the attorney in charge to take on the role of project leader so as to enforce quality control and avoid sanctions. How does this trend help us to understand and define clear team roles?

Do you have to be a techie to manage a litigation support or e-discovery project? Some experts in the PM world would say no, but you do need to have an understanding of what the technology can do, should do and does best.

If you are the project leader? Can you successfully delegate tasks to others on the team? Communicating and discussing everyone’s strengths up front will enable successful task delegation and role identification.

Now that we’ve given this some thought, let’s create our project team checklist:

  • Determine the roles & responsibilities you will need to complete your e-discovery project successfully
  • Consider your team’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Create a “Roles & Responsibilities” Matrix (fill it in, share with whole team, everyone knows what’s expected of them)
  • Keep in mind that everyone on your team may not be employed by your organization (the client, outside counsel, service provider, consultant)

What do you think are the key roles that are necessary for every e-discovery project? Which are optional? Should the partner in charge be the project leader?

Explaining e-Discovery to your friends & family

You’re at a dinner party making light conversation. The question comes up… what do you do? What do you say? Do you frighten the person you’re talking to by telling them that their company’s attorneys are listening to their deleted voice mail messages or that the IT folks are crawling the network and searching their email for “key words?”

Okay, let’s try another scenario… what do you tell your family that you do? How do you describe litigation support or electronic discovery to them?

Okay, let’s try one more… and this one will lead us to a discussion on managing expectations…. the hardest part of being an electronic discovery project manager… When you run into one of the attorneys or paralegals in the hallway, elevator or breakroom… what do you tell THEM that you do? Is it easier to explain because they have some context with which to understand litigation and discovery?

Managing Expectations on e-Discovery Projects

To successfully manage the expectations of your project sponsors and stakeholders on an e-discovery project, you must first communicate clearly what your role (and theirs) is on the project. I would begin with a general perspective of what your role is with the firm and your litigation support department’s mission statement or charter. This can easily be accomplished at a project launch meeting.

The role of the e-discovery project manger in today’s environment is very similar to that of a business analyst. Whether you are communicating directly with your firm’s corporate client (legal department) or with your friends and family, many people understand how a business analyst / project manager can bridge the gap between the business objectives and the technology.

The initial project planning meeting must include defining everyone’s role on the project as well as the plan for communication.  We will discuss project roles and functions as well as more communication best practices in later posts. First, you might want to practice your “elevator speech” so that you will be ready to manage stakeholder expectations for your next project.