Are you SURE you are communicating clearly?

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 (erika@learnaboutediscovery.com).  Click here to register.  I will cover additional best practices for communication, documentation and project success.

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How do you transition from Paralegal to Project Manager?

This is a question that in today’s legal market place, I’m getting asked a lot. I have my thoughts and recommendations but I’d love to hear from you too. What does it take to transition from being a senior litigation paralegal to an electronic discovery project manager?

There are lots of transferable skills including:

  • Communication (“legaleze”)
  • Understanding the scope and procedures of the discovery process
  • Agility in working on multiple projects at the same time with tight deadlines

What did I miss? I’m sure there are more.

What are the “new” skills that today’s paralegal needs to acquire in order to achieve success as an EDPM?

Here are a few of my key recommendations:

  • Technology – not just how to search and report from the discovery document database but rather an understanding of basic (to advanced) knowledge of IT infrastructure and systems (or simply, the difference between an e-mail server and a file server)
  • Communication – “legaleze” isn’t enough… status reports, budget vs actual spend, change management
  • Change management – how to manage the implications to the budget and the schedule if the scope changes in a way that holds project stakeholders accountable for those changes

Have you made this transition? What skills were you able to carry over from your days as a paralegal to your new career as an e-discovery project manager? Are you a recruiter? What skills do you recommend to your clients to look for in a qualified candidate? Are you a hiring manager? Does certification in e-discovery, litigation support and/or project management matter?

 

What’s Your Time Management Profile?

Have you ever sat down and thought about your time management profile? How you tend to prioritize work or projects? Your decision-making process for putting things off until tomorrow that really should be completed today? Do you buy into the idea that your attorneys or case teams are keeping you from managing your time effectively? Let’s take a moment today and really think about how you do you… how you manage your projects and how you might become more effective at controlling the way you spend your time as a project manager.

I actually thought about this the other day after reading an article on CNN.com entitled, “Are you a procrastinator or an incubator?” According to the article, some people procrastinate and then proceed to beat themselves up over their seeming inability to complete tasks or projects until the last minute. I’m not advocating putting everything off until the last minute… what I’d like for you to consider is if you complete top quality work … even if it is at the last minute… you might be an “incubator.”

What is an incubator?

[Someone who has] the ability to subconsciously process important ideas while doing other — often recreational — activities.

The article goes on to discuss a study that was conducted to learn more and identify incubators vs. procrastinators.

In a pilot study with 184 undergraduate university students, we were able to isolate specific items that distinguished incubators from the rest of the pack. Incubators were the only students who had superior-quality work but who also worked at the last moment, under pressure, motivated by a looming deadline.

Time management is more than finding a methodology that will work for you as a project manager. It’s about understanding who you are and your working style so that you can manage expectations of yourself and focus on your strengths. If you are a procrastinator, here’s an article with some suggestions on avoiding procrastination. If you’re an incubator, evaluate and re-prioritize your projects to find a better balance with your time management profile.

Managing & Tracking Metrics

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?

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?