Have you ever wanted to scream like Chris Tucker’s character in “Rush Hour?” Are you assuming your audience doesn’t know what you’re saying? Are you assuming they do understand what you are saying? Are you sure that you are communicating clearly?
We all THINK we are communicating clearly. However, I have observed lately on a project that I am working on that I was not communicating as clearly as I thought I was. I frustrated one of my team members because I asked open-ended questions when he needed me to be more specific. Fortunately, we realized what the stumbling block was and corrected it before it became a real problem. This led me to think about e-discovery project managers who communicate so frequently that we may lose sight of the mechanics of communication.
Communicating effectively is about starting the conversation with the other person outside of your head. As the “sender” you are responsible for presenting information to the “receiver” that is clear, unambiguous and specific. It is the “receiver’s” responsibility to ask questions for clarification if the sender is not clear, specific or vague. We are all either the sender or the receiver of information so we all carry the responsibility towards the success of our communication with one another. This is especially important when you are working as an e-discovery project manager because you will (not might, not maybe) have people on your team who are unfamiliar with the terminology, technology, and/or process you are using for the project. As the project manager, you will want to make certain that you provide opportunities for everyone to learn and understand and truly “receive” the project plan.
Ask yourself before you click send on the next e-mail:
- Are any of my statements or questions open-ended? Vague? If so, can I restate to be more clear and specific?
- Have I used any terminology that my recipient(s) is unfamiliar with? If so, can I take a few minutes to hyperlink to a definition on dictionary.com or Wikipedia? Or perhaps define the word parenthetically?
- If I’m responding to someone else’s e-mail, have I asked any follow up questions for clarity?
- If I’m describing a process or workflow, would a picture or flowchart be better?
- Is the time and date due clearly stated? Or agreed upon?
What else would you recommend that e-discovery project managers do to improve communication with their teams and stakeholders?
In a few weeks, I will be delivering a webinar training on e-discovery project management for paralegals (and anyone else who’s interested). Send me an email for a discount code (email@example.com). Click here to register. I will cover additional best practices for communication, documentation and project success.
Learning about project management methodologies may seem a bit overwhelming at times but if you start out simply with an Excel spreadsheet or a notebook/ legal pad, the basics can be achieved. Project management is really about keeping track of what you did and planning what you are going to do.
Here are some tips from a recent article by Brett Burney, an industry expert on e-discovery project management:
You can document your actions on a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet, a yellow legal pad, or using one of the tools mentioned above. It doesn’t matter the medium, as long as it’s being done and can be referred to at a later date.
At a minimum, a documentation protocol should include:
- client, matter, and task;
- who requested the task (e.g., stakeholder, lawyer, client);
- date and time the task was started and completed;
- name of person who engaged or completed the task;
- notes, summary, problems encountered, resolutions;
- software and hardware used; and
- chain-of-custody considerations (where were the results delivered?).
What advice do you have for someone just getting started in e-discovery project management?
When you are planning your e-discovery project, your case team will ask you “how did you come up with that number?” That “number” could be associated with a cost or with a schedule/ time line you’re suggesting. Metrics (or statistics) are information we collect about a current project so that we can use it as a reference for our next project. Typically, we collect information on how long everything takes to be completed and how much it costs. Don’t forget to take good notes on why the ESI conversion took 3 days and why it cost more or less than we thought it would.
Steven Levy talks about metrics from the broader business perspective of a law firm in his Fireside Chats found here.
There are only a few applications dedicated to e-discovery / litigation support project management. One of them is iFramework. The presentation below was uploaded over the weekend… you might find it useful in discussing the value of documentation and metrics with your case team. How are you currently managing and tracking metrics for your e-discovery and litigation support projects?
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.