What lawyers can learn from Japanese car makers
Simon Sinek in his great book “Start with Why” tells the story of a visitor to a Japanese car plant asking how they ensure the doors of the cars fit perfectly. The response – “we make sure it fits when we design it”. The solution is engineered at the beginning of the process. The outcome is influenced by the decisions made at the start of the process. What does this have to do with legal project management? The first question to be asked by a good project manager is “What does done look like?” In the context of a legal matter this means, “What do acceptable outcomes look like?”
The answer influences the strategy, and in turn the work required. Project management also involves regular review against a project plan, looking at the acceptable outcomes defined at the outset, and checking whether the matter remains on course. This periodic review enables early identify if a matter is going off track, either because the course of conduct is not likely to achieve the acceptable outcome, or because the nature of the acceptable outcome has changed.
For example, new facts may require a change of strategy, or may require a change of mindset about the acceptable outcome, with a consequential need to change course.
This question of “What does done look like?” applies to all deliverables in the process, not just the final outcome. Defining the "look" of any deliverable by necessity influences the work required. Ensuring that all team members understand what an advice will look like, requires a clear understanding of the points to be covered, how the advice will be presented (e.g. dot points, executive summary, footnoted caselaw, tables or images), the level of information required (e.g. detailed analysis of all caselaw, or only references to relevant cases with no analysis). In turn, the decision of the level of information required is determined by the nature and needs of the client - an in-house lawyer whose company is regularly involved in a particular type of litigation is unlikely to be requiring an advice explaining the basic principles applying, whereas an unsophisticated client will not always benefit from a complex analysis of the law.
So follow the lead of the Japanese car makers and understand the importance of the decisions made at the outset. Draw your clear picture of “done”.