Future of Legal KIM: ‘Death of Difference’ and the need for effective legal project management

A really timely thought piece ‘Becoming the law firm clients really want’ landed on my desk this week. The future of LawBy Peppermint Technology Research, it characterised the future of law firms as being ‘the death of difference’ noting that legal will become much like other sectors. This scenario has profound implications for lawyers, professional support lawyers and legal knowledge & information management (KIM) professionals.

On December 9th Martin White and I will be hosting a breakfast breakout event at the RSA The future for Legal KIM: An Outside-In perspective.  In it we will look at some of the issues facing KIM professionals. Martin and I have worked in many industries across many countries; we’ve seen and been involved in seismic shifts in the KIM roles in engineering, energy, the 3rd sector, publishing, software and finance. Our thinking in putting this event together was to share some of our experiences in a relaxed setting with like minded legal KM’ers.

So over the past few weeks in the run up to the event we have been looking at the four big issues research had told us were near the top of the legal professions ‘must do’ list.

  • Lawyers come and go – capturing knowledge at speed
  • Getting the best from virtual teams
  • Collaboration and KM beyond the firewall
  • Bringing it all together – legal project management

I began with Going but not forgotten: knowledge capture in a hurry, Martin then wrote  The opportunities for digital workplace adoption by law firms and  Certifying virtual teams – a key skill in digital workplace implementation.

bringing it all together – legal project management

Today I am going to focus (from a KIM perspective) on the challenges of setting up a project management infrastructure that allows an organisation to learn from previous experiences and feed back learnings from the project back into the business.

There are many project management disciplines being used in industry. The Stage-Gate new product development (NPD) methodology is one example in which the veracity of new products are assessed and resources allocated according to a set of criteria for each stage of the process. Knowledge capture is built into the process.

Irrespective of the system you adopt below are a few of the questions you will need to be asking (I’ve omitted the obvious budget ones):

set up (learning before)

  • What do we know about this subject and what has been done before?
  • Who is an expert (internal and external) and can we get their input before starting the project?
  • Who should we invite to the Kick Off meeting and how do we want to structure that?
  • What structures are we going to use for management, monitoring and decision making?
  • Who is going to be on the Project Steering Group and how do we manage those stakeholders and others? How often should they meet and in what format?
  • How are we going to capture the outcomes of meetings, store the material we generate and make people aware of what’s happening?
  • How do we collaborate across teams and boundaries to ensure the best possible decisions are made based on the best?

conduct (learning during)

  • Who do we go to for answers to tricky questions that arise and how do we do that?
  • How often are we feeding learnings back into our project?
  • Who is providing updates and in what format?
  • Where are we storing progress reports?

conclusions (learning after)

  • What format will the debrief take and who will be invited?
  • When and where will you hold it?
  • Who will be tasked to action the outcomes?

I remember a conversation once with Professor Victor Newman on his Baton Passing Technique which arose in part to ensure project knowledge is passed on.  He said:

The big problem in managing learning to have an impact is to know what knowledge is useful, to whom, the form it should take, where and when it is best applied and when best to share it

Baton PassingAlongside is an extract from the slides Victor and the British Council made available.  It works, I’ve tried it!

I have used in addition: After Action Reviews, Pause & Reflects, Retrospects to name but three.



Earlier this year APQC published an interview with me in which I described the concept of DEBRIEF as a technique for capturing learnings at the end of various stages of projects. I will talk more about that on the 9th.  It’s not too late to sign up here!

and finally

Too often the KIM team are excluded from the project management processes in favour of an accredited (Prince 2 trained) Project Manager. In my view that’s a grave mistake, there are KM techniques for each step of the process and the good KIM’er will be well versed in facilitating such interventions.

If you fail to learn from what you’ve done then you will not improve as a business and will be uncompetitive with those who do.




8 essentials for conducting good debriefs

This is taken from my recent interview with APQC.

Their question: In your experience, is there one thing that all great debriefings have in common that allows them to be productive?

And my answer

All good DEBRIEFS have

  • Design: A good agenda agreed to in advance with a specified end sent to the right people.
  • Environment: If this is wrong you are starting from a negative place.
  • Briefing: The set up is vital – the key players need to commit to being there and to understand what the objectives of the session are.
  • Roles: Make sure people know why they are there and what’s expected of them.
  • Intuition: if you are facilitating, trust your judgment and be flexible and willing to go down different pathways; expect the unexpected!
  • Engagement: Be appreciative and encourage laughter. When people laugh they relax and are engaged, when people relax they are often creative, and when people are creative things happen.
  • Food and Beverages: They lubricate the tongue and act as a natural break.
  • Silence: Don’t be afraid to let it hang when you are getting to an uncomfortable moment.

when Moscow and Bangkok meet: conducting a cross border/cultural debrief

A couple of weeks ago I was the fictitious CEO of a global insurance group listening to a presentation by a combined group of Russian and Thai delegates at a training programme. Their task was to convince me that my company should engage them and to do so they had to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the approach they’d spent the previous 4 days learning about.

They had a few rules to adhere to:

  • The presentation was to last for a maximum of 50 minutes and minimum 25 minutes
  • Each person had to present for at least 5 minutes and no more than 10 minutes

Those familiar with both cultures will know that one is voluble and will openly debate, happy to occupy centre stage; the other more reserved preferring offline conversations with an aversion to open criticism.  After lunch my challenge was to conduct a debrief on this exercise with the group drawn from consulting and energy with a good to acceptable command of English.

I settled on using a timeline as a way of giving both groups a neutral object on which to focus.  I was trying to get them to recognise how differently groups from varied backgrounds and cultures can view the same exercise while concurrently acknowledging their very positive actions as a group. 

using a timeline as a catalyst for coming to an understanding about an event

Here’s the instructions I used:

  1. Please split into two groups Russian Team and Thai Team and take 15 minutes to:
    1. draw a timeline: from handing over to presentation
    2. now trace the steps and the chronology, noting down key moments/decisions as you saw them and who was involved
    3. were there any moments the group got stuck and if so how did you overcome them?
    4. when you’ve completed your sheet put it up on the wall
    5. then inspect the other team’s and note down any obvious differences

A key request was that ‘above the line’ they should record the key moments and ‘below the line’ the sticky (or difficult) moments. TimelineThe Thai team with their energy (engineering) background created a detailed forensic account whereas the Russian Team provided summaries for each of the headings above. The group found it very useful to discuss the difference in approach and outputs since it has real implications on the way to roll out new initiatives in a global organisation.

There was a lot of laughter (a good sign) when I invited them to split 50/50 Russian/Thai in pairs. I invited them to

  1. Get into pairs and discuss
    1. What is something that worked well in this activity?
    2. What is something that did not work well in this activity?
    3. What is something you would do differently next time?
    4. And finally, what behaviours did you find most helpful as you worked in a team for the first time.
  2. Back into plenary and capture each person’s comments.

Once we’d surfaced positive behaviours it enabled me to split the ‘teams’ and as a mark of progress I asked the listener to repeat back what their partner had said.

my takeaways

The formality of the timeline allowed both cultures to fully participate in their own way and  gave the less voluble Thais a mechanism to voice their feelings which otherwise might have remained hidden.

It re-emphasised the maxim that in a global business tailoring your messages to each audience is critical to get adoption.

And finally it underscored the idea that when undertaking a debrief it is important to always recognise and acknowledge the good behaviors that others adopt.