My inspiration for this column comes from hearing Steven Levy and Rick Kathuria speak about legal project management at the Legal IT Conference on April 4th. Steven very effectively described the “Seven Habits of Effective Legal Project Managers” which included creating a project charter, clarifying stakeholders, minimizing waste and building a communication plan. Rick talked about how this was put into practice at McCarthy Tétrault through the implementation of a legal project management framework that involved the following four stages:
So far, most of the focus in legal project management has been on applying a project management framework to the life cycle of a matter or client assignment. The same principles and framework could be applied to other initiatives within the firm by Marketing, Professional Development and IT Departments.
According to the PMBok Guide, “a project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result”. Marketing initiatives such as client conferences or client publications have a distinct beginning and end, are temporary and result in the creation of a unique product or service. Marketing projects also follow a similar framework which is described using a client conference as an example below.
The first step in any conference is to DEFINE the scope, content and format of the conference. What are the topics and learning objectives of the conference? Will the conference be delivered on the web or on site? Will it be a full day or half day format? The marketing manager may also identify key stakeholders at this stage such the conference chair, the conference coordinator, the presenters, the content reviewers, the target audience, the event venue contact, and publishing contacts for the brochure.
The Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM) or the Responsible Accountable Consulted Informed (RACI) chart is an effective project management technique which helps define the roles and responsibility of stakeholders for large scale conferences. This involves identifying stakeholders who are responsible for doing the work, accountable for the quality of the work, subject matter experts who need to be consulted about content of the work and those who need to be informed of the progress. A plan can be developed for communicating with each group of stakeholders which leads us to the next stage.
The second step is to PLAN the conference which can include setting a conference date, selecting and booking a venue, planning the sessions, selecting and booking presenters, defining requirements for materials, drafting the conference brochure and invitation, etc. Planning should involve most of the stakeholders, some of who may be new to the conference process. A very useful exercise at this stage and one of my favourite project management techniques is to walk through a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) with the whole group. This is an excellent brain storming exercise which captures all of the major components of work and the tasks for each activity. You can capture this information in a variety of ways using Microsoft Visio or by placing sticky notes on a wall which is a technique I often use when I’m pressed for time. The Work Breakdown Structure (example in picture below) provides an excellent breakdown of all of the tasks that need to be done before, during and after the conference. This information can then be transferred to an excel spreadsheet which identifies who is responsible for each task and the target dates/deadlines.
The third stage is to MONITOR progress which can include developing presentations and materials; reviewing materials, monitoring attendee enrolment and managing stakeholder communications. It is important at this stage to communicate progress to key stakeholders through weekly status updates that identify risks, constraints and actions taken. This helps to avoid messy email discussions that result when somebody has been left out of the communication loop. This stage is completed with the delivery of the conference.
The final stage is one of the most important and often poorly executed. This is the EVALUATE and ASSESS stage which involves capturing client feedback through a conference survey. What is often neglected, is the solicitation of feedback from the other stakeholders on what went well and what did not go so well during the project. The lessons learned and best practices along with the survey feedback can be captured in a report that will be extremely useful for future conferences.
The application of any of the project management techniques discussed above will help clarify expectations for internal and external stakeholders and streamline the conference process.