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Lexician Answers Questions About Legal Project and Process Tools

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Steven Levy discusses tools for process mapping and Gantt charts in today's post to his Lexician blog.[1]  As a once-ardent user of the Hipster PDA (between jobs, when I was blissfully free from a smartphone), I particularly like his suggested old-school process-mapping tool:
I think the best tool, if you have the wall space, is 3×5 notecards, thumbtacks, colored yarn, and a very large corkboard -- and then take digital pictures of it regularly as a backup! I've used this method effectively myself. I bought a bunch of one-foot-square tiles and glued them to the wall outside my office when I worked at a large corporation (not that we couldn't afford a big corkboard, but I actually wanted to emphasize the do-it-yourself approach to make a point to my teams). It's tactile, it allows many people to participate at once, and it's downright fun to play with the yarn -- and anything that makes what can be a frustrating exercise more fun is a good thing.
With co-located teams, this is a great approach. As much as I love note cards, however, I find this tool isn't particularly useful when working with "virtual" teams, disperse among several international locations. I suppose one could e-mail the pictures of the notecard-and-yarn process map and each team could replicate it locally. Heck, that may be a good idea. It would lead to greater attention paid to--and understanding of--the process than another e-mail attachment would. But it does seem inefficient and error prone. Also, many managers and clients, expecting slick graphics, might not appreciate a snapshot of notecards and yarn.

For those muggles who demand electronic versions, Steve suggests Microsoft PowerPoint as an easy-to-learn diagramming tool, which many attorneys are already familiar with. He recommends against Microsoft Visio. Ouch! I've recommended the opposite. Perhaps I'm overly removed from the "average" attorney, but I don't find basic flow charting in Visio that difficult to learn or teach. Perhaps it takes a bit longer to get up and running than PowerPoint, but in my experience having people map processes in PowerPoint leads to lot of time wasted on trying format and fit the shapes. 

For general attorney training, throwing in another software tool may add an unnecessary hurdle in a project-management, process-improvement training program/exercise. But anyone who plans to spend a lot of time mapping work flows will find the (I still think not so significant) investment of time in learning Visio worth it. 

Incidentally, Google just rolled out its drawing application in Google Apps, which allows collaborative diagramming. You can have two people working on a flowchart at the same time, seeing each other's changes in real time. Unfortunately, it's shape connectors don't snap to and follow the shapes, so it ends up being frustrating to use as a process-mapping application. If Google improves the performance of the shape connectors, however, it would be a great collaborative tool. 

Steve also discusses the use of GANTT charts in LPM and whether there are less-complicated tools than Microsoft Project for building them. His advice is spot on and I don't have much to add here. MS Excel will work find for most legal projects, unless you need to carefully track work-package dependencies. One thing I would add, however, is that before you start plugging data into Excel, it does help to decompose the work into manageable chunks. 

I find that doing this in MS Project or Excel, or even outlining programs, can be cumbersome. During the earliest stages of planning for a (potential) project, I like to brainstorm my way through how I think the work will break down. This is often a collaborative effort, which can be done one white board. But I find using mind-mapping software more convenient. Using mind-mapping software, it is easy to create create, delete, and move work packages. One mind-mapping tool that I've found helpful for brainstorming my way through a preliminary work breakdown structure is XMIND.


[1] Steven B. Levy, Sharing Some Project Management Answers, Lexician, Apr. 15, 2010,

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on April 16, 2010 10:00 PM.

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