Learn About E-Discovery Project Management

Lately, I’ve been writing most of my e-discovery project management posts on my other blog http://www.learnaboutediscovery.com … Here’s a quick round up of the most recent posts and I invite you to visit me over there some time!

 

  1. Being the Project Manager
  2. How important is COMMUNICATION to e-discovery projects?

  3. “New Job Title, Same Job? Becoming an E-Discovery Project Manager”
  4. Recently, I recorded a live training on e-discovery project management… the link on this post will soon convert to on-demand registration. Here’s a few extra notes from the webinar.
  5. I delivered a CLE last month on this topic. Here are a few notes from that lecture.
  6. Electronic Discovery Metrics: Why Metrics Matter

 

Check out my other blog: www.learnaboutediscovery.com or send me an e-mail erika at learnaboutediscovery.com

 

 

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The Value Proposition of E-Discovery Project Management

It’s been over five years since the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were revised to clearly instruct and encourage litigators to engage early in managing electronically stored information. I’ve been in the litigation support industry since 1995 and project management skills have always been important to the success of litigation matters for which technology was involved. The Sedona Conference published a proclamation a few years ago stating the value of cooperation and project management methodology best practices in e-discovery. Recently, I shared this article outlining the value of project management with my students and thought you might like to read it as well. Here are the key points with my commentary… you can read the whole article here.

The value proposition for project management goes something like this. It takes time and effort to proactively manage a project. This cost is more than made up for over the life of the project by:

  • Completing projects more quickly and cheaply. – Cost and litigation budgets in general are typically the focus of the client. Most corporations have project managers within their business model and expect that their lawyers and legal teams do also. It’s not just about being quick and cheap but more so about not wasting time and money.
  • Being more predictable.    How can we predict costs and schedules if every litigation or e-discovery project reinvents the wheel? Project documentation includes metrics.
  • Saving effort and cost with proactive scope management. How much data (ESI) do we need to review? How much of it is relevant? What tools and resources exist to help us only review what we need to? An experienced e-discovery project manager can help you to navigate these waters.
  • Better solution “fit” the first time through better planning.  –
    My motto in litigation support has always been: The tools are not as important as the process. Define your process, then select the right tool for the job.
  •  Resolving problems more quickly.  Project management includes a communications and problem solving plan/ protocol.
  •  Resolving future risk before the problems occur.
    Experience and metrics will allow you to assess risks and plan a solution or solution options in advance.
  • Communicating and managing expectations with clients, team members and stakeholders more effectively. Managing expectations is a big deal. This is extremely difficult to do without the guidance of a project manager and a documented plan of action.
  •  Building a higher quality product the first time.  Improved financial management. This article is targeted to an audience of software developers but this sentiment applies in e-discovery, too. Think: document production.
  • Stopping “bad” projects more quickly. If a project is being effectively managed, someone will notice a problem before it turns into a train wreck.
  • More focus on metrics and fact-based decision making. Decisions based in facts derived from well documented metrics will provide the consistency of methodology, the courts are looking for.
  • Improved work environment. Who doesn’t want to work with a bunch of happy people?

 People who complain that project management is a lot of ‘overhead’ forget the point. All projects are managed. The question is how effectively they are managed.

A lot can be said for the value of project management in e-discovery… if you don’t have a project manager on your litigation team don’t worry, you can learn… keep reading this blog. 😉

 

21 Ways to Excel at Project Management | Project Smart

The team at Project Smart in the UK has republished their e-book,21 Ways to Excel at Project Management | Project Smart as a website. Here’s the summary from their website where you can still download the original e-book.

Project Management is the dynamic process that utilises the appropriate resources of the organisation in a controlled and structured manner, to achieve some clearly defined objectives identified as strategic needs. It is always conducted within a defined set of constraints. Learn more with this eBook, written in a question and answer style, containing 21 pieces of valuable advice for making your projects a complete success.

 

 

 

Will Agile Project Management Practices Reduce the Risk on Your e-Discovery Project?

Maybe. But the best scenario for success requires that you are involved from the beginning of the project. This probably won’t work very well if you’re brought in after all of the key decisions are made and the project schedule and scope are defined… or worse, if the schedule is defined but the scope is not. I follow a project management blog from the U.K. called Project Smart. In today’s post, they discuss how agile project management practices reduce requirements risks in software projects. Since we use software as ediscovery project managers, I didn’t think it was too much of a stretch to think about our ediscovery projects in agile terms. How would I reduce some (or as much as possible) of the risks that are inherent to managing ESI through the discovery phase of litigation? Well, first we have to break the discovery phase into projects. In my (humble) opinion, discovery in itself is not a project. It does not have a clearly defined schedule, scope, resources or quality control workflow. And because it can sometimes drag on for years, I wouldn’t really call it “temporary.”  Some might argue with me on this point but for the sake of practicing ediscovery project managers, lets go with this for now. I’m open for discussion in the comments.

Next, we have to identify the projects that typically take place during the discovery phase. Thanks to the nice folks at the EDRM, we have a lovely chart to work with here. Consider each box on the chart a project and now we’re ready to begin our discussion.

What are the risks for every project? The folks at Project Smart list six common risks for any sort of project:

  1. Unrealistic Customer Expectations and Developer Gold-Plating
  2. Insufficient Customer Involvement
  3. Poor Impact Analysis
  4. Scope Creep
  5. Defective Requirements
  6. New Processes and Tools

How would we manage these risks within the context of electronic discovery? This is an ongoing discussion I’ve had with other ediscovery project managers so I would appreciate your feedback in the comments.

1. In order to manage unrealistic expectations, break your project into smaller goals and objectives. Ask your project sponsor (usually the attorney in charge or maybe the client) what they absolutely must have at a minimum and what are the nice-to-haves. Make sure you document all of this for the project team. The Project Smart author suggests 3-week “timeboxes” where you define goals in terms of what can realistically be accomplished in a 3-week period of time. You may not have 3-weeks, you may only have 3-days …. or you may have 3 months to work with… select a reasonable but short time period as a short term goal and get everyone to sign off on that course of action.  As for the “gold-plating” … I consider this to be similar to selecting software based on bells and whistles rather than making sure that the technology selected to complete the project will match our team’s workflow goals.

2. Agile project management is a collaborative approach to managing a project. While the EDRM chart seems like it passes the “baton” from project to project, if you look closely, the arrows double back on each other. So much so that you really can’t make a decision about how you will convert ESI for the document review without first knowing what production formats your attorneys agreed to or you’d like for them to agree to at the discovery conference. If you need to know what the big picture objectives are for each project within discovery, you need the attention of the key stakeholder or sponsor or customer who can make decisions about which path to take. In the business world, they call litigation support professionals or ediscovery project managers “business analysts.” Your role as an ediscovery project manager is to help the client/attorneys define concise and clear requirements and then document them for approval so that you can execute the plan. It is a huge risk when the attorneys over delegate to litigation support and choose not to understand the technology and best practices for implementing the technology. (I would also add that over delegating to your service providers is just as risky if attorneys take a hands-off approach.)

A real world example can be found here and here’s a key point of the article: “… counsel must be vigilant in conducting oversight of all processes crucial to ESI production and particularly any privilege screening processes.” In other words, don’t over delegate…

3. Litigation is often a moving target. So it might be a nice idea to think that ediscovery PMs will be brought into the discussions earlier enough to make an impact. It might also be a little unrealistic to think that the project scope and definition won’t change if the litigation strategy changes. I like the agile philosophy because in an agile world, change is not a bad word. Change happens. Prepare for it by analyzing alternative workflows and have a “change request” form handy to document that the change requested is authorized. (Send me an email for a sample “change request” form)

4. I have a funny picture that I show in class when I start talking about scope creep. It’s a scary monster creeping up behind an unassuming project manager. Litigation is known for scope creep. Electronic discovery can sometimes feel like the scope isn’t creeping at all… it’s running fast and furious right over you! This is probably the highest risk area of project management. When corporations don’t have a good idea of how much data they have, what starts out as a small project, suddenly turns into 500 gigabytes of data. Or your attorney tells you they have a few CDs they need you to process and when you swing by his office to pick them up, they’re actually DVDs. Scope creep shows up many ways in ediscovery projects. Manage the scope of your projects by revisiting number 1 in this post: short timed goals. If the case team adds to the processing project more data that’s been collected, no worries… it will likely not be completed by the deadline for the first set of data. Be sure to communicate this up front so that you can manage expectations. Adapt the project plan to the changes and be sure to plan ahead for the potential changes that might occur on your project.

5. Has this ever happened to you? You start down the path to completing what seems like a simple project, only to discover that you were missing a major detail for getting it done? Working in smaller “timeboxes” as suggested by Project Smart might work for you and your team. Asking follow up questions to define priority of custodians or search requests, reports, training etc. will also help. A clear communication plan is also necessary to avoid defective requirements on your ediscovery project. Who has the decision-making authority? How will you validate your project requirements? In the classes I teach on ediscovery project management, I suggest to students that they should always take 15 minutes to think of and then ask follow up questions. Communication is crucial to a successful project and taking notes on the palm of your hand in the break room is not a good way to define project scope or requirements.

6. New technology and updates to old technology is an every day occurrence in the world of ediscovery. How do you reduce the risks associated with using new technology? First, your technology should meet the needs of your project workflow. It should not hinder but be intuitive to the team. Periodically, ask the team to give you candid feedback (online surveys of 5 questions or less work well for this) about how the new application is working for this project. Workflow and process are essential management tools for any ediscovery project. You can have a successful project if your workflow is defined and youhave a way to capture metrics to tell the story of your success later. Remember, the tools are not as important as the process. You will reduce the risk in using new tools if you are able to demonstrate (especially to the court) that you have a documented methodology and workflow in place.

Do you think that agile project management practices will help to reduce risks your next ediscovery project?

How would you change the way you’re currently managing your ediscovery projects to take on a more collaborative and defined approach?

How do you deal with change on your ediscovery project? What works? What doesn’t work?

Recently Found on Twitter

I wanted to title this post “Found on Twitter this Week” but I actually started writing it a few weeks ago… the information isn’t stale – at least I hope not. When I first started tweeting and following other Tweeters last year, I found myself looking at updates several times a day. Then I realized that I was tweeting and retweeting and reading articles that were linked to a tweet so much that I couldn’t get any of my “real work” done. It was so much good info… I naively thought that I could keep up and write a weekly post on what I’d found on Twitter. Ha ha ha! Reality set in and now I check daily but I limit myself to just a few tweets, retweets and everything else, I send myself an email to look at it later when I have an hour just for reviewing what I’ve found. So now that I have some time to review what I’ve found recently, I thought it would be selfish of me to keep it all to myself… especially for those of you who don’t follow Twitter …

** I saw a press release announcing the new edition of Michael Arkfeld’s book Electronic Discovery and Evidence

** Cloud computing is becoming more acceptable and mainstream in the business IT world. This article provides some key points that I believe future law suits and conflicts or issues with evidence stored in the cloud. The following quote is from the section that addresses e-discovery:

Considering that multiple copies of data may be created, stored, recompiled, dispersed, reassembled, and reused, determining what constitutes a “record” or a “document” for discovery purposes may be difficult to achieve in the cloud.

There is a “part 2” to this article which I also recommend. It includes useful checklists for corporate legal teams to address before entering into a cloud computing contract.

** In an article about controlling e-discovery costs, I found a popular e-discovery truth to actually be more of an urban legend or myth: cases don’t settle because the e-discovery costs are too high. Wow! Earth shattering news! Here’s the quote:

In my experience with commercial litigation, while e-discovery costs can be substantial, a case will rarely settle simply to avoid discovery costs when the amount in controversy exceeds it by several orders of magnitude. Even in smaller cases – like disputes with former employees – the cost of discovery driven by notice pleading is unlikely to force settlement because trial courts will grant relief from overly broad discovery requests.

This is why e-discovery project management is sooo vital an element to the case.  EDPMs have metrics available and can provide attorneys with the necessary information to make the strategic decisions early in the matter in order to avoid lopsided costs and spending.

** Another article I found thanks to twitter on this topic is geared towards attorneys:  “ 8 Things to Help Contain the Cost & Risk of Litigation”

** I’m a regular reader on PM Student’s blog. Do you wish you had at least 15 more hours every week to devote to your life outside of work?

Perhaps I’ll make it a point to clear out my inbox next week and share some of the other interesting things I’ve found lately on Twitter. In the meantime, you don’t have to have a Twitter account to view my tweets at twitter.com/lsptrainer.

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.