Editor's Note: First published in August 2016, this article provides lasting lessons on the basics of project management as it relates to e-discovery. Take a look for a deep dive into a critical skill set for our space.
To truly understand the value of project management when it comes to handling electronically stored information (ESI) and e-discovery in general, one must first have a firm grounding in general project management principles.
Project management principles are, of course, ideally suited to the management of e-discovery projects and litigation or practice support operations. They are particularly appropriate given the repetitive and dependent tasks; the variety of people and organizations involved; and the need to better manage the scope, timing, and cost of e-discovery projects. One need only consider that discovery is the most time-consuming and expensive aspect of litigation to then take the next logical step toward more efficient ways to manage it.
But what is project management? Lots of people talk about it, but very few have actually put project management principles to work. Here are some core concepts to understand.
What Does Done Look Like?
Perhaps the most important question a project manager can ask when he or she leads a project is “What does done look like?” That question—as simple as it seems—and its answer should resonate throughout the project. Otherwise, the project will lack scope, a purpose, and a goal. It’s critical to know where you are going.
But scope management is just one aspect of project management. Time and cost are the other big components. Before we dive into the ins and outs of this discipline, let’s define a few important terms—starting with these three:
- Project management is the structured application of skill, knowledge, tools, and techniques to organize project activities designed to efficiently bring about a desired outcome.
- A project is a temporary, non-routine endeavor limited by scope, time, and cost that creates a unique product, service, or result.
- A project manager is the person possessing the applicable skill, knowledge, and talent, who is assigned by an organization and responsible for actively managing the project.
It is not difficult to envision how these definitions dovetail neatly with e-discovery activities. In e-discovery, projects arise in the preservation, collection, processing, review, and production of ESI. Each case is different, each budget and timeline is specific to the case, and the outcome is rarely the same.
Project Management Lifecycle
Projects also have a life; they have a beginning and an end. It’s important to understand the project lifecycle. It begins with the five Project Management Process Groups. What is process? Process refers to the discreet steps, actions, or operations one takes to achieve project objectives, the tools used, and an understanding of what each part of a project will look like. Process is identifying the inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs required to produce results.
When beginning a project, it makes sense to have an orderly framework. The five process groups provide that framework:
- Initiating: Should we take on this project? What are the alternatives? Can we manage it ourselves or should we seek outside expertise? Do we have the necessary agreements in place?
- Planning: What does done look like? What is and what is not included? What resources do we need? Who will lead the project? How much is it going to cost? What risks are involved? How will quality be maintained?
- Executing: Project work begins and deliverables are prepared.
- Monitoring & Controlling: Are we on time? On budget? Are we maintaining quality? How are we monitoring changes in our scope, goals, or definitions?
- Closing: Document what was done, record metrics, and perform post-project review.
The lifecycle does not end here. Within each process group there are areas of responsibility that a project manager must focus on throughout a project. Known as the Knowledge Areas, these are the core process elements in each of the five process groups:
- Integration management
- Human resource management
- Scope management
- Communication management
- Time management
- Risk management
- Cost management
- Procurement management
- Quality management
- Stakeholder management
The knowledge areas help structure, categorize, and navigate the necessary order of project work. They must be consistently integrated, managed, and monitored across the five process groups during a project.
Together, the five process groups and the knowledge areas provide a consistent framework for project work. This framework has been time-tested and it works. Take cost management, for example. The ability to estimate, budget, and manage the costs of an e-discovery project is critical to the success of that project. Clients expect not just cost predictability, but also cost containment.
Time management is also critical. Poor time management will manifest itself in missed deadlines and fragmented schedules. This leads to added cost, unhappy stakeholders, and usually a lot of explanations.
And quality management is crucial as well. Knowing where and when the quality of a project is vulnerable, having contingency plans, and being ready to respond to quality issues is what separates great project managers from merely good project managers.
The Ins and Outs of PM
Within the framework, a project manager is responsible for the Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs in each knowledge area. This means that the project manager first gathers information and identifies the activities and requirements of the project (Inputs). Second, decisions are made about the systems, equipment, methodologies, and resources necessary to achieve project success (Tools & Techniques). And third, the completed tasks and activities are turned into deliverables, which leads to the completion of the final product, service, or result (Outputs). Focusing on a recipe for success is key here, because while many sources or tools may be at your disposal, picking just the right ones can make or break your project. In writing a book, for example, it would be a mistake to compose half of it on paper and half on your laptop.
So, if you’re tasked with collecting electronically stored information (ESI) on a new case, what Inputs are needed before beginning the project? What information is necessary to enable the collection and move forward?
Next consider the Tools & Techniques. Is there a particular collection methodology suitable to the case? What tools are required? Are there written protocols or best practices for performing a collection?
And finally, what is the Output? Obviously, it’s the collected ESI—but how is it maintained? What form is it in post-collection? Are there any other requirements at the conclusion of an ESI collection?
This is but one simplified example of how the traditional project management methodology works in the e-discovery context. The framework identified above and the process of moving from inputs to tools to outputs are a proven methodology. And that’s why the more than 500,000 project managers employed across the globe in nearly every industry, including the legal space, are using this methodology to achieve results.
The First Step: Get Going
The first step in an e-discovery project is to ask what done looks like—in other words, identify the scope. Then plan your project, including the time, cost, quality, risks, and so on, and execute the necessary tasks. Monitor the project for risk impact, quality issues, and scope creep, and finally, close the project. Taken in such a formulaic way, the challenges need not seem so insurmountable.