A Failure of the EDRM Model

The Electronic Discovery Reference Model has become something between a standard and an idée fixe in the e-discovery world.

One of the models the EDRM organization propagates is the EDRM Project Management Framework (courtesy


Superficially, this looks terrific, hitting all the right buttons. Project management itself, wonderful. Communication, check. Plan before you execute, great. Change management, woo-hoo!

But… how does it measure up against the real world?

The main problem with diagrams of this sort is that they attempt to map that real world by eliminating complexity and complications rather than by providing patterns or techniques that support beneficial behaviors.

Even the best maps often leave out important information. For example, the excerpt of the Montreal Metro map below suggests that one might walk between the Peel and Université-de-Montréal stations (green and blue lines, respectively) – a rather difficult proposition, given that one has to ascend 600+ stairsteps up Mont Royal just to begin the journey. (I counted them one delightful spring day and have forgotten the exact tally, but it was a very. Large. Number.)


As the saying goes, the map is not the terrain.

Here are half a dozen things the EDRM framework doesn’t tell us that are essential to effective project management:

  1. Scope isn’t enough as a starting point. In fact, it’s almost always the wrong starting point. Good projects start with a charter, which includes scope – and more importantly, out-of-scope – as well as client critical success factors (“Done”), an understanding of the hidden stakeholders, and more.
  2. Quality control must encompass the scope/charter as well.
  3. Plans fail. As 19th-century military strategist Helmuth von Moltke said, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Planning is far, far better than non-planning, but few plans for complex situations are ever executed in a way that clearly resembles the plan. Good project managers know this, and know when to re-plan, when to adapt on the fly, even when to blow off the plan because its mismapping has become an impediment.
  4. What are you measuring? You can’t just have this reporting/metrics blob out there on the horizon. You get what you measure… and when you cannot measure what you want – which is a common real-world issue – you get something else. Which may resemble what you want, if you’re lucky, but which often leads to extra, inefficient work that doesn’t redound to the client’s benefit.
  5. You’re not done when you close the project unless you close the loop as well. You get smarter much, much faster when you conclude projects with a debrief, learning and sharing what the project team did well and what they did not so well.
  6. Project Management is an art as much as a science. The best project managers realize, as Eisenhower said, that “plans are useless, but planning is essential.” Your main assets aren’t documents or tools or project plans, but people – highly complex, individual, stressed people. Learning how to get the best from your teams is far more important than getting caught up in any framework.

That said, the framework also gets some things very right.

First, there is a science to project management, even if this diagram fails to hint at its complexity. People can learn to be effective project managers, and good project management makes a huge difference in projects of all sorts – including e-discovery efforts.

Second, one key to effective project management is communication. This diagram wraps the whole map in a web of communication – and such communication is the only way a project will succeed. Lawyers are traditionally reluctant communicators, taught by years of law school and decades of practice to share only that which they must. Project managers, on the other hand, succeed best when they share everything (except that which they cannot). For all the Internet jokes about TMI (too much information), I have yet to see a project fail because of over-communication, but I’ve seen dozens founder on the shoals of insufficient or inept communication (and I’ve studied dozens more such failures).

I applaud efforts to systematize e-discovery, which otherwise is like one of those Florida sinkholes that opens in the street and swallows cars and miniature poodles. However, there is a rule in the sciences that “explanations should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

This framework is a good start, but it is too simple.

(That said, anything that encourages people to consider the value of project management is a plus.)

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