Why is Project Management Challenging and Rewarding?

E-Discovery project managers provide a valuable skill set that keeps litigation discovery on-track. They offer similar services in law firms, e-discovery service provider shops and corporations. Project managers deal with a wide range of tasks, such as:

  • Staying abreast of new and changing e-discovery software tools
  • Responding to rush discovery requests
  • Obtaining technical and soft-skill certifications
  • Providing recommendations to legal case teams about discovery strategy
  • Assisting with document review setups
  • Running Assisted Review projects
  • Using document analytics techniques
  • Contributing to marketing efforts
  • Contributing to business development efforts
  • Collecting data
  • Helping clients reduce E-Discovery costs
  • Negotiating project deadlines and expectations
  • Troubleshooting technology and workflows
  • Communicating with case teams, clients, and service providers

Mea Laminam Plenum

According to Google Translate, mea laminam plenum is Latin for the phrase “my plate is full” (Disclaimer: translation not verified with a live Latin speaker). Architects of the great Roman aqueduct system might have used such a phrase over the 500 years it took to build their massive water delivery system.[1]

E-Discovery project managers juggle a wide range of less resource-intensive responsibilities. The pace, nonetheless, can be an intimidating experience for the uninitiated or ill-prepared. Legal project managers can have a huge effect on the level of success of their clients' projects. How can we increase the odds that the effect is positive?

A project manager can maximize his organizational impact by adopting five simple habits.

Five Simple Tips A Project Manager Can Leverage

If you ask ten people to describe a good project manager, you get ten different answers. A better question to ask is “What can a project manager do on a daily basis to become a better project manager?” The latter question is also subjective, but more relevant. Its focus is on continuous improvement and teamwork rather than zero-sum comparisons.

With that, I give you my Five Tips for Efficient E-Discovery Project Management:

#1: Channel your autodidact

An autodidact is a self-taught person. Legal project managers have many opportunities to explore topics of interest. They deal with technology, e-discovery legal procedure, project management principles, etc. every day. Employers offer chances for formal classroom training. Technology companies provide Webinars and trade show presentations.

A self-learner seeks out knowledge to please her curiosity. She picks compelling topics then researches to learn more. She repeats this behavior to enhance her project management skill set, bit by bit.

In the E-Discovery world, there are so many areas to explore. Document collection, analytics, workflow modification, forensics, privacy, etc. Explore!

#2: Make time for tasks that matter most

A project manager can spend a limited amount of time on any single task, thus he should focus his efforts. He should learn to say no or to offer alternatives rather than tackle every request asked of him. "Am I the best person to handle this run-of-the-mill request, or should I focus on a more crucial pain point?" is a great question for a busy project manager.

Solving client issues is where project managers should focus their efforts. Clients come to project managers with tasks they do not want to handle themselves. Own those tasks. Make your clients’ lives more straightforward, and they will return. Your efforts might also earn their future trust to consider opportunities you present.

Time is one of a project manager's most valuable resources, thus he should not waste it!

#3: Pursue incremental process improvements

The first necessary step to improve in any activity is to admit the need for development. Find quirks in your daily business workflows that are good change candidates. Tasks that display problem characteristics such as these are possibilities:

  • Need manual, repetitive steps
  • Time-consuming
  • Complicated

The goal of process improvement is to do things in a better way. Formal process improvement is a structured affair. You more or less follow these steps:

  • Document current process
  • Analyze process steps
  • Automate or cut steps
  • Track progress

This structured formula is overkill for an E-Discovery project manager's daily needs. The kaizen or “change for better” approach is better suited for time-strapped individuals. Brett and Kate McKay explore personal goal achievement in their blog article Get 1% Better Every Day: The Kaizen Way to Self-Improvement.[2] They claim that anyone can reach goals by focusing on getting 1% better every day. This ad-hoc method is a good fit for E-Discovery project managers' unpredictable schedules.

#4: Plan for the unexpected

E-Discovery project managers handle many impromptu requests, some simple; others not so. A client calls when a client wants to call, and expects service as soon as possible. Strive to always be an unflappable service provider. Calmness is especially helpful when helping a stressed client. Your goal should be to project your coolness under pressure. Display that sangfroid, your "je ne sais quoi" of customer service excellence. Squelch any doubts your client may have about your ability to solve their problems. Put in the work to earn their trust!

In my firm, stressful scenarios seem to rotate amongst the E-Discovery project managers. We all get occasional opportunities to handle hot issues. We can observe how peers solve their difficult issues and emulate their successful strategies. There is no shortage of teachable moments, so why not take advantage?

Workers in high risk occupations use practice and teamwork to hone their responses. Think firefighters or aviators. They consider potential scenarios so often that their responses become reflexive. Project managers should likewise develop their problem solving skills. Big problems are a series of smaller problems joined together. Break a large problems into smaller steps, then solve each step. If you do not have the expertise to correct an issue, ask peers for help. If you have the time and desire, channel your autodidact!

#5: Communicate, and then communicate again

Communication is a vital project management skill. Project managers spend about 90% of their time conversing.[3] Efficiency matters here. Project managers should strive to be as clear as possible. Effective communication boosts customer service and strengthens client relationships.

So how do you know if your communication efforts are enough? Do you receive frequent update requests from your clients? If the answer is yes, then they are lacking.

Try switching your communication approach to resolve issues. I conduct the vast majority of my daily dialogs via email. Now and then, I take part in lengthy, tedious, endless email exchanges. When this happens, I pick up the phone or request a face to face meeting. This one simple action is usually enough to get things rolling. The technical term for this roadblock is “communication impedance mismatch.” Remove resistance to your message by sending it via another route.

Follow the Five Tips!

To be a more astute, engaged project manager, work at it daily. These five tips are a great place to start:

  1. Channel your autodidact
  2. Make time for tasks that matter most
  3. Pursue incremental process improvements
  4. Plan for the unexpected
  5. Communicate, and then communicate again

The benefits that you will get for investing the effort are:

  1. Increased knowledge on topics of interest to you and your organization
  2. Increased effectiveness through maximization of the value of what you do
  3. Continual organizational improvement
  4. Increased preparedness for adverse risks and beneficial opportunities
  5. Closer relationships with your clients

The listed order does not signify that any of these tips are more important than the others. They all return rewards well beyond the effort needed to use them.