Delegation and project managementPosted on: January 8, 2014
I recently wrote two blogs for The Future of Law blog at Lexis Nexis. The topics were delegation and project management – important and linked ideas. The articles and links to the original blogs are below.
To delegate or not to delegate – that is the question
During the recession, legal teams were cut down to the bone and senior lawyers had to get used to doing much of the work that they had previously passed down to more junior staff themselves.
The trouble is, once a habit is formed it is hard to break. So now the market is recovering and firms are “staffing up” by recruiting new assistants or pushing them up through the ranks. But these assistants often find themselves without work – as the seniors are continuing to do it all themselves.
As a result of this work-hogging, a couple of firms asked me to help them with delegation training. I tried to explain that whilst I was happy to help them, there actually wasn’t much to the theory and process of effective delegation – even in the most complex areas of law. There are simple steps to decide when and what to delegate, to whom and how. The complicating factor is usually behavioural and cultural.
Let me explain. It is common sense for a partner to pass on the work to an associate where appropriate. The firm uses its leverage and can do the work more profitably whilst releasing the partner for business development activities. The client wins as the work is done at a level that is cheaper than a partner. The associate receives work that enables him or her to develop and practice their skills and make a contribution to the firm and the client.
However, there are lots of reasons why partners don’t delegate. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that I often discover:
- Fear – For those partners who are not skilled or motivated to go out and win new work they may be afraid that if they delegate work to their juniors then they will not be able to generate more work themselves. This leaves them vulnerable when their recorded hours are low. This is not to be tolerated and training or coaching for the partners – or a revised reward system – is the solution.
- Protectionism – Some partners believe that their clients will only want them to do the work. This may be true if they have particular knowledge of the client’s business or preferences, although they really should be sharing that knowledge with the team. There’s built in succession then too.
- Sinatra – Old habits die hard. Some partners insist that the work must be done exactly the way they have always done it and more staff may take a different approach – perhaps using the new technology that the Sinatras haven’t yet got to grips with. The key is to focus on the right end result rather than the route.
- Distrust – Partners may not feel that the juniors are up to the job or can’t be trusted to treat the client well. This may indicate a recruitment or training issue but the partner is paying their salaries and so ought to deal with the situation rather than avoid it and let it fester. Often, better team communication can solve this issue.
- Busy – When partners are under pressure it is tempting for them to do the work themselves rather than take more time to explain it to a junior, monitor their progress and do the necessary checks. However, they are only likely to get busier until they break or mess up so they must set aside the time to get the team up to speed so that the load can be shared.
Read my blog on the top five tips for effective delegation.
Three reasons why project management skills must be on your agenda
It’s no secret that the legal profession continues to go through a time of profound change. No matter how much we fight it, or pretend it’s not happening, it’s clear that only those firms who are flexible and agile enough to make timely changes to their infrastructure, systems, processes and behaviour will succeed.
Lawyers are generally pretty good at working out what needs to be done despite the challenges of achieving consensus in a partnership. But where things often fall down is in execution – implementing the agreed changes.
Whether in big law or a medium sized firm, project management must be on your agenda – here’s why:
- Change management – it is often not handled very well, partly because of leadership and resource issues but often because firms lack the ability to tackle such change programmes with the appropriate vigour found in professional project management processes. It was interesting to learn recently that some of the Magic Circle firms have dedicated change management teams that are full of professionally qualified project managers.
- Large scale legal matters – when you have a team of over 50 lawyers embarking on a complex multijurisdictional transaction that is likely to last many months, you will need smart project management to ensure that everything goes to plan. In some respects, it’s a surprise that lawyers don’t have project management as one of their required core competencies.
- Pricing – it’s important that legal projects are planned out well in advance if the pricing is to be properly calculated to maximise profitability and client satisfaction. How can you confidently quote a fixed fee unless you have considered all aspects of the work and possible variations, considered the risks, mapped out the required resources and detailed what needs to happen and when at each step of the way?
Where to go for support?
It’s interesting that project management became part of the professional marketing examinations of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) back in 2009.
Your business development and marketing folk are used to managing large projects – whether these are new web developments, major events, substantial tenders or detailed campaigns. Your IT and technology teams will also be adept at managing large projects for the development, rolling out and training of new systems. Your premises and facilities folk will be project management pros if they have managed office refurbishments or relocations.
So the people in your support teams might be a good place to start if you are getting to grips with project management for the first time.
Your five stage plan
To illustrate what’s involved, here’s an outline of a five stage iterative project management process.
Agree project worth doing
Define expectations for each stakeholder group
Define project scope
Develop a SOW (Statement of Work)
|PLAN||Refine project scope
List tasks and activities
Develop a workable schedule
Get the plan approved
|EXECUTE||Lead the team
Meet team members
Communicate with stakeholders
Fire fight and resolve conflicts
Secure necessary resources
|CONTROL||Monitor progress and deviations from plan
Take corrective action
Receive and evaluate project changes
Reschedule project if necessary
Adapt resource levels
Change project scope
Return to planning stage to make adjustments
Document and gain approval for changes to plans
|CLOSE||Shut processes and disband team
Lean from project experience
Review project process and outcomes
Write a final project report