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LPM Part 5: Planning (cont’d.)

A lot goes into the planning stage of LPM. So much, in fact, that one blog post couldn’t do the subject justice. Let’s review the aspects of the planning stage of LPM that we covered last week.

Review

There is no one way to conduct the planning stage, but the following steps are a good baseline to get you and your team moving forward with an executable plan:

  • Create a strategy document, to be maintained and updated by the project manager, that includes names, assignments, budget estimates, and an overall actionable purpose that unites and clarifies project goals
  • Use a work breakdown, whether it’s a list, or a more detailed structure built using software tools
  • Utilize task codes, like the UTBMS, to streamline and effectively communicate project goals
  • Estimate a budget that can be clearly understood by the client

The Team

Realistically, you probably began building your team at the very outset of the project. Certainly, when you discussed budgeting, staffing was a central issue, since the two work hand-in-glove. Team leaders and the project manager have to work together during the planning stage to find the right staffing solutions. You need to strike a balance between the cost of certain staff, and their relative skill levels. Consider not only how much a certain team member with a certain skillset will cost, but also whether and how each team member can build their skills throughout the course of the project.

Appeal to an individual’s desire to sink their teeth into new challenges. Consider what each individual team member might like to work on. Try to fit their work goals into the larger workflow of the project. This is also a good time to consider whether non-legal professionals might best fill out parts of your team’s roster. More and more legal professionals these days come from backgrounds other than law, and they can bring unique insight to a project.

Communication Plan

By now, you might be sick of us talking about communication. Or perhaps you find it refreshing. In either case, it’s no great secret in law that firms and legal professionals can be somewhat opaque in their communication.

Oftentimes, the root cause of communication problems are the archaic, hierarchical command structures companies often impose, either explicitly or implicitly. As we’ve previously emphasized, the project manager’s job entails opening lines of communication between all levels of their project team, and taking responsibility for giving clients and other stakeholders updates on the project’s status. Without a clear communication strategy like this, tasks may get completed in the wrong way or at the wrong time, they may be delegated improperly, they may be billed in unapproved ways, or they may simply not be completed at all.

To avoid such problems and inconsistencies ballooning out of proportion, your project team should develop a communication plan. This plan is separate from the overall project plan, as it concerns only the structure of communication. Your communication plan should answer the following questions for each discrete communication:

  • Who is involved in this communication?
  • Why am I communicating with them?
  • What am I communicating to them?
  • When, or how often, should I communicate with them?
  • What is the best communication method? (e.g., phone call, email, meetings, memos, etc.)

This information should all reside in the project’s communication plan. You might use a spreadsheet to keep track of all this information. Many project management tools also have built-in communication systems, like dashboards. Whatever system you use, make sure that everyone on the project team can check the communication pipeline whenever they need to.

Risk

We’ve spoken before about risk in the planning stage. It’s important to have contingency plans in place for when the unexpected occurs. Talk with the client, and other relevant stakeholders, and assess the potential risks and fallout therefrom. Estimate the probability that a given problem may occur, and try also to gauge its potential impact in a quantitative way. Once you estimate these values, you can strategize how best to solve a problem if it presents.

Next Steps

Today’s post and last week’s post, both about the planning stage, probably felt overly broad. There is a reason for that: we are only scratching the surface. Planning is by nature a very detailed enterprise. A good plan needs to provide a framework for every aspect of a matter. It is a good idea to render a plan in some kind of visual format, and to update it as facts and the situation change. Above all, make sure to communicate the plan to all parties concerned.

Once you have your plan worked out, it is time to execute it. Stay tuned.

This is part 5 of a series on Legal Project Management. Click for part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, or skip to part 6, part 7, or part 8.

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