SUCCESSFUL KNOWLEDGE PROJECT MANAGEMENT
This blog, part of our “Foundations of Knowledge Management” series, provides some tips and techniques for managing and delivering knowledge projects of any size. Whether you are new to doing this or a seasoned project manager, here is a checklist for getting a project started through to completing it and post-project analysis.
FIVE KEY FACTORS FOR PROJECT SUCCESS
Knowledge professionals will find themselves, sometimes inadvertently, managing or being involved in projects at some stage. Five key factors will help make projects a success:
1. Pressure for change: sometimes knowledge projects just have to happen, for example, if the replacement of a knowledge database is necessary, or a pandemic results in large swathes of a workforce accessing knowledge remotely. However, knowledge projects more often take place because we are attempting to introduce efficiency or roll out a new tool or way of working. There needs to be some element of pressure or incentive to make this change happen successfully, for example, endorsement and support from a senior member of your firm.
2. Leadership and goal: strong leadership from someone with a clear vision and vested interest is important. If your project is in a certain area of law, for example, then a having a partner from the relevant department as a champion will be beneficial. A key individual or small group responsible for driving progress must also lead the project.
3. Relevant and capable people: think about who is delivering or feeding into the project. Knowledge projects tend to focus on complicated areas of law, technology, or data. You will need people with the relevant skills or experience who have the capacity to play a role. Don’t forget about the people who the project is geared toward too, for example if you are creating an internal knowledge database then engage with people who are going to use it.
4. Planning: you need to spend time planning and then communicating that plan so everyone knows what to do when, and what the end goal is. Think about the different project stages and succinctly set out objectives that people can easily follow. If you need lawyers to draft precedents, for example, then provide a list with information about format, where they should be stored, and deadlines.
5. Reward and recognition: if your project needs input from lawyers across the firm then you will need to think about how you are going to engage with them because billable work will always take precedence over knowledge projects. Reward and recognition can be key in getting and sustaining input; it could be billable credit, it could be an award, or it could be an email from senior management highlighting key contributors.
If your project is not going to plan, then pause and consider each of these five factors in turn. It may be that your project has stalled because your planning actions are not actually that clear or relevant anymore, or it might be you need a senior stakeholder to lend their voice to encourage team members to finish certain tasks. Sometimes, however, circumstances or priorities do change and a project may need to be retired before completion. If this happens then it can be worth thanking and explaining that to the team, making use of any work that has been done, and considering the lessons learned.
THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY, TRAINING, COMMUNICATION AND ANALYSIS
Many other factors and steps can help achieve project success:
- Technology: project management platforms can help you with organising the different stages of a project (I’ve seen Excel and SharePoint used to create interactive timelines and checklists, for example). It really depends on what you have available at your firm or what your project involves, so it is worth speaking to your technology team at the outset. Remember that technology can be time consuming to use, some people are better adopters of technology than others, and you still need to think about all of the factors outlined above.
- Training: attending a training course on how to manage projects can be helpful, especially if you are new to managing projects. Courses I have been on have varied in length but they often incorporate case studies or practical exercises, which are an effective way of learning (and remembering!). If you are in a large law firm it’s likely you have a Legal Project Management or Learning and Development team, so it’s worth asking if someone can facilitate internal training or share materials.
- Communication: during a project, set up regular meetings, calls or send out emails flagging progress and actions. Be careful of over-communicating though as not everyone is interested in the various stages of a project. When time and effort has gone into completing a project then think about how and when you are going to communicate about it. If you have a communication team at your firm, then work with them to create a plan to advertise/celebrate achievements.
- Analysis: think about the post-project analysis. If you have completed a precedent project, for example, then gather usage metrics to assess the time and effort spent creating them. Consider, also, gathering feedback from the project team to find out what went well or what could have gone better. Post-project analysis can be a valuable way to learn and improve your project management skills.
These blogs, webinars and podcasts below are a snapshot of some of the steps to achieve project success. Various ILTA members have authored or presented about project management.
Selecting Projects that Provide Value to an Organization (Blog – 13 Oct 2020)
Change Management Tools for Success - Recap (Blog - 7 Aug 2020)
How to Measure Hard-to-Measure Project Success Factors (Blog - 19 July 2019)
Applying Lean Principles to Legal: Legal Project Management (Podcast - 19 July 2019)
Designing Your Project with Adoption in Mind (Blog - 9 July 2019)
How to Pick the Right Projects (Webinar - 24 April 2020)
Project Life Cycle Phases One, Two and Three: Measure Twice, Cut Once (Webinar - 10 April 2019)
Project Management Tool Recap (Blog - 7 Feb 2019)#KnowledgeManagementandSearch
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