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Is Your Report an Arrowhead or a Moai? Fiddling with Artifacts While Your Project Dies

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In a recent post to his Lexician blog, Steven Levy reminds us that, just as the map is not the terrain, the artifact is not the project.[1] He points out that: "[t]oo many project managers, bad project managers, don't get this. They see their job as the production of such artifacts. They turn out beautiful Gantt charts, multi-page budget worksheets, process maps, and hundreds of other such museum pieces." Yes, if you work with enough project managers long enough, you'll eventually come across instances where a project manager sits fiddling with his daily dashboard report while the project burns down around him.

I've always liked the term "artifact," which is project-management jargon for (roughly speaking) any documentation created as part of managing a project.[2] I tend to use the term in the broader sense of all the "stuff" the project team creates when managing the project. Including all the detritus that builds up, such as old document versions, cell-phone snapshots of white boards, ripped out pages from legal pads that are shoved away somewhere, unsent communications and report drafts, swapped out pages from document-review manuals, etc. All that junk that, as you gather it together and prepare to send it out to be securely shredded at the end of the project, you wonder how--and why--it was able to build up into such a pile of waste.

The analogy I like to draw is a rather obvious one. In archaeology, an artifact is anything human made, from which archaeologists attempt to learn something about the people who created them and their civilizations. Some artifacts are indicative of great leaps forward in human development: arrow-heads, flint, wheels, calendars, and so forth. Other artifacts are little more than ancient bling and, in some cases, the bling is exceptionally extravagant, created during--even contributing to--the collapse of the makers' civilization. Think of the moai of Rapa Nui (Easter Island).[3]

This was a weakness of mine when I first began managing large electronic-discovery projects. I expended a great deal of time to create graphically rich, information-dense reports, obsessing over colors and fonts, often working over-time because who has time to perfect a report during the blur of communications, meetings, and monitoring tasks during the day? I would do all of this only to be asked, after sending it out, to just highlight a few major metrics and send them in a plain-text e-mail for easy viewing on a blackberry.

I also found myself creating reports from scratch for each project. That this was a waste of time became quickly apparent.  So I learned to create spreadsheets and, later, SharePoint datasheets and use other tools that allowed me to easily spit out numbers for copy and pasting or even automate the sending of such reports, yet still allowed for generating charts when requested, and which I could quickly repurpose for other projects. 

Getting a handle on reporting is an important step in reducing legal-project management redundancy. Those fancy reports can be costly to produce. Luckily, for e-discovery project management, many of the tools have rich reporting features built in that if leveraged properly can shave off hours a week, even hours a day, from your project-management overhead. Unfortunately, there are not many such tools for other areas of the law. I remain unimpressed with the reporting features of most practice-management applications. Most lawyers will, therefore, still have to home-bake their own reports. 

When creating reports, or determining how you will communicate a matter's progress with the team, it is important to remember that more is not always better. You can pack a lot of information into brief, well-designed documents. For an example of this, I recommend checking out Clark A. Campbell's, The One-Page Project Manager,[4] which shows how you can communicate and manage even very large, complex projects on a single sheet of paper. I'll be posting an interview with Mr. Campbell in the near future, which will discuss how his system can be used by lawyers to manage legal projects and also will talk about his soon-to-be-released MyOPPM-oneline service. 

[1] Steven B. Levy, Artifacts: The Map Is Not the Terrain, Lexician, Sep. 29,2010,

See, e.g., Max Wideman, Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms v. 3.1, (generated 12/19/2002 9:25:28 AM), citing Rational Unified Process 2000. See also, IBM Rational Unified Process (RUP), (last visited Sep. 30, 2010), defining an "artifact" as:

A piece of information that:

  1. Is produced, modified, or used by a process
  2. Defines an area of responsibility, and
  3. Is subject to version control.
An artifact can be a model, a model element, or a document. A document can enclose other documents.

[3] Steve Conner, How did Easter Island's ancient statues lead to the destruction of an entire ecosystem?, The Independent, Wednesday, July 04, 2007, (last visited 9/30/2010).

[4] Clark A. Campbell, The One Page Project Manager: Communicate and Manage Any Project With a Single Sheet of Paper (2006), available at


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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on September 30, 2010 12:33 PM.

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