Legal Project Management and Fort Knox: Common Denominators

Preparing for a project today led me to an interesting article (thank you, Twitter): The Eight Most Secure Places in the World. Naturally, the article covered places such as the United States Bullion Depository (often referred to as Fort Knox), Colorado’s ADX Florence Supermax Prison and NORAD. Unexpectedly, it included a vault that protects more than 250 million seeds and a parking garage.

What unites these juggernauts is not necessarily the independent security measures each took to secure its premises, but the uniform thoughts that drove the creation of these processes.

For example: Battening down the hatches at Fort Knox includes resources such as gates, cameras, armed US Mint Police, artillery support from the nearby Army base, a 22-ton vault door and a combination split between 10 separate people who must all be present to unlock the vault.

Clearly, prior to building the depository and setting up these tactics, the government needed to create the plan and its desired outcome, agree on a project plan, resources, goals and deliverables, execute and monitor on these principles and then drive the project to completion. This includes everything from site evaluations, budgets, building plans and a tight oversight to ensure a timely and exact execution. After all, they were building this to protect more than 4.6 thousand tons of gold bullion.

So how does this relate to legal project management?

Like the development of these fortresses, there are basic components for successful legal project management.

The Right People – The Project Management Institute blogged about what qualities good project managers have and these are definitely relevant in legal project management. The best candidates have long-term vision balanced with an eye for detail and the drive to ensure projects stay on time and within budget. The project manager needs to have a strong commitment to see projects through to the end and the patience to methodically plot them out and assign deliverables.

And then there is communication. Yes, we hear this skill paired with almost every profession but in this case it rings especially true. An individual who is handling a project that spans an entire corporate legal department – and often includes participants from multiple departments and outside counsel – requires the ability to alternate communication styles like a switch hitter.

Experience is important. Does your project manager know the processes that comprise the planning and execution of this particular project? Does the project manager know your unique needs as a corporate legal department that must be taken into account? Is your legal project manager credentialed (PMP, CAPM, etc)? Has your legal project manager handled projects such as this successfully? If there is no one that suits these requirements within your organization, consider hiring a consultant or outsourcing your project management needs. Another option is to identify your department’s budding project managers and arrange for professional development opportunities for them.

The Right Tools – Did they bore out the Cheyenne Mountain for NORAD HQ with spoons? Did they use paper mache to build fences for Area 51? Of course not! In order to ensure quality results, you must have the right tool to help you plan, collaborate, execute and measure your projects. In this case, I’m talking project management software. First and foremost, ensure that the software you choose is specific to legal project management.

There are many tools out there that address the needs of project management in general but if they are not tailored specifically to legal project management then you’re starting out your project with an unnecessary deficit. What good is your software if you can’t use it to plan or track important elements of your project such as e-invoicing, alternative fee arrangements or matters, tasks and timekeeper management? It should also serve as a centralized repository of information for authorized participants – a home for your documents and conversations around the project that can easily establish processes, players, deliverables, next steps and reports.

Finally, consider cloud-based applications. Cloud-based software gives you the agility and collaboration capabilities of in-house applications without them being leashed to your computer or including expensive, department-wide implementations.

The Right Resources – Project management is an evolving discipline for the legal industry, one that requires corporate legal departments to learn the ropes while also adapting the process to meet their unique needs. If legal project management is a new concept for your department, then turn to the right resources to help you develop it successfully. Here are a few ways to help you acclimate:

  • Attend legal project management seminars such as these that can address the practice from a beginning to an advanced level.
  • Look outside the legal industry to find inspiration of other project management success stories. Although the exact execution of a software development project may not speak to your legal projects, the vision and outcomes may provide helpful references.
  • Go to professional organizations to catch up on the latest news and events within the industry. Great examples of project management organizations include the Project Management Institute and the International Project Management Association.
  • Ask your peers how they are implementing project management in their corporate legal departments and what successes they are hearing of.
  • Turn to industry experts to learn more about project management and its trends and applications in the legal industry.

So build your own Fort Knox of legal project management by ensuring you have the right people, tools and resources. Your gold bullion will thank you.

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