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Throwback: 5 Tricks to Help e-Discovery Project Managers Keep a Level Head

Amanda Sabia

Originally published in 2016, this post highlights some helpful tips for project managers. It continues to get attention today, so we're republishing it in case you'd like to take another look.

As cases become increasingly complex and involve more data, we have come to understand that project management is a critical discipline in the e-discovery field. Everyone on your team can contribute more effectively with the right organizational skills and big-picture thinking. You, as the project manager, can guide them through it—but not if you’re losing your cool.

Here are a few ways you can keep a level head while juggling demands, balancing the load, and scaling to meet every project’s needs.

1. Innovate your workflows.   

It is critical to continuously adjust your approach to how you handle all the data, client deadlines, and workflows and keep up with the cutting-edge nature of the industry. Stay ahead of the curve and take advantage of technology as it develops so you can get ahead of your team’s needs.

For starters, check out some online resources outlining new tools and important industry changes. You can also follow legal technology news to stay up to date on federal rules, culture changes, and industry-impacting courtroom decisions. Google Alerts for the word “e-discovery” and internal newsletters here at DTI give me updates on what’s going on in the industry, helping me stay on top of technology changes and legal decisions. I also find that the immersive experience of Relativity Fest is really powerful. The takeaways at a conference like that go beyond simply learning new technology, because hearing what works for others and sharing what works for us is often a game-changer.

You can also leverage your day-to-day work to accomplish this continued learning. An application like Relativity Fact Manager is a collaborative case planning tool with detailed timelines, and really resonates with project managers who want a single location for case management. I learn a lot from each case and am better able to contribute to the next project by embracing tools like this.

2. Organize. Execute. Repeat.

The best way to tackle a new or existing assignment, task, or project is to follow this repeatable, memorable model:

  • Plan. What technology will you need? What data will you see? Scope it out before you jump in.
  • Organize the workflows and resources required to meet those needs (and your deadline) and create documentation.
  • Execute each step of the plan as you plotted it. Audit your activity, track your progress, and make note of any requirement changes along the way.
  • Repeat this process as often as you need to. What worked? What didn’t? What can you improve next time?

One approach I like is to work backwards from the deadline. You can identify benchmarks and milestones and build them into your plan so you can track progress toward your goal.

3. Consider a back-up solution before you need one.

Data is unpredictable and may present challenges that can cause you to veer from that initial workflow design. Walk into each task or assignment understanding what a backup plan may look like. Perhaps those documents are taking longer than expected to publish, or the review’s QC workflow needed to be modified midway through to meet a partner’s or client’s request. Whatever the case may be, identify creative ways to handle those situations and get back on track seamlessly.

One thing I do is write out a situation map, where I list the preferred approach and other options. If something changes with short notice, I walk through the details of each option with the client and determine feasibility. Sometimes, I’ll use this to reinforce that we can work through that challenging situation, or maybe at this point, I can illustrate that no matter which approach we take, the expressed timeline may not be feasible—but we can almost get there by taking a different approach.

4. Keep your cool when things heat up.

Stressing over a last-minute, critical deadline? Discovering an unpredictably large data set? The best way to respond to a data challenge is to analyze the situation. Keeping a logical approach is the best way to make sure the project continues to move forward effectively and efficiently. Step back if you have to, make yourself some coffee, and discuss your options with colleagues. Your team is looking to you for an organized plan of action, and you’ll do your best work when you’re in the right mindset.

It really helps me to remember this when I’m getting overwhelmed: whoever is on the other end of that challenging situation is likely 10 times more stressed out than I am. When I fly in bad weather and get nervous about turbulence, I always look to the flight attendants. If they’re calm, I can be calm. That’s really important in project management too—your collected confidence can influence your client. If they’re sending a last-minute email about needing a large production done in a day and you send a million replies that are different from the usually organized correspondence you usually send, they’re going to think there is a problem, they’re going to stress, and things are only going to get harder to tackle.

5. Be responsive, consultative, and honest.

Simply answering an email or phone call opens the door for a conversation, but building the conversation is up to you. By providing consultative assistance throughout a case, you can develop workflows to seamlessly meet those tight deadlines and build trust in the process. Ask questions of your colleagues, execute research, and strive to be a critical extension of the case team. If you find it challenging to be consultative in your emails, schedule regular calls and make time for workflow discussions. You can use that time to build a more in-depth relationship with your client.

In our space, honesty and cost are closely related. Sometimes a really disorganized collection is delivered to us, for example. We can certainly build a workflow for handling the data, but it’s going to take more billable hours than it would have for a clean collection in the recommended format right off the bat. Being honest with your client and your team about what you need, and consultative in ensuring they understand those requests, will save time, money, and make for a really defensible process.

My team, for example, has generated a budget tracker application in Relativity to help with cost transparency on a specific case, and provided weekly reports for the client to outline cost updates. It has been extremely helpful for both the client and me. The client trusted us a lot more knowing that we respected their budgetary requirements.

You can stay ahead of the curve and ahead of your next production crunch by settling into these habits and staying abreast of industry, client, and organizational needs. To build your team’s trust and your resume, you can even validate these skills in your e-discovery platform.

What healthy habits help you stay on top of your team’s project management needs? Let us know in the comments.

Amanda Sabia is a senior manager in pre-sales at Relativity.

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