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E-Discovery Project Management: ILTA White Paper on Legal Project Management, Part V

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My interest in project management grew out of my e-discovery practice and desire to more effectively manage large, complex discovery projects. So I always enjoy reading what others in the industry have to say about e-discovery project management. Today I look at an article on the topic that provides some good points to ponder. This post continues my discussion of the International Legal Technology Association's (ILTA) recently released white paper on legal-project management.[1] I've linked to the previous posts in this series at the end of this post. 

In their article for the ILTA white paper, Randal Girouard, Manager of Litigation Support at Haynes & Boone LLP, and Sarah Brown, Corporate Communications with Exterro Inc., look at how legal-project management is an important step in legal-process improvement.[2]  This is a timely topic. The relative importance of legal-project management initiatives, compared to legal-process initiatives has become a somewhat hot topic in the blogosphere lately.[3]  After defining and distinguishing the terms "project management" and "organizational business process management," the authors argue that "[p]roject management is an essential step in moving toward process maturity" and finger electronic discovery as the "most obvious litigation process in need of project management and its accompanying process maturation."

Next they discuss the importance of developing the role of e-discovery project manager and investing in e-discovery project-management software. One of the authors is in charge of corporate communications for Exterro, one of the top providers of e-discovery project-management, legal hold, and data mapping solutions. So, it is not surprising that the article recommends the purchase of such software. That said, this is one case where I agree with the marketing. 

E-discovery is complex, costly, and yet lends itself to a structured project-management approach. Project-management software really can deliver a return on your e-discovery investments by making your projects more effective and more efficient--and by lowering your risk.  This is especially true with tools like Exterro Discovery Workflow, which are highly customized for e-discovery projects and processes and which tie into your IT systems and play well with other e-discovery tools. 

The article then steps the reader through the phases of project management, using the Electronic Discovery Reference Model's Project Management Framework (EPMF).[4] This is the first article in a major industry publication I've read that highlights the EPMF. The article states that the EPMF parallels the Project Management Body of Knowledge ("PMBOK").[5] This is somewhat misleading. Although some of the terms are similar, the EPMF takes a phasic approach, breaking an e-discovery project into seven phases: scoping, preliminary planning, team selection, detailed planning, start up, execution, and closeout. The PMBOK, on the other hand, takes an iterative process approach, dividing project-management processes into five process groups: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing. 

I find the EPMF's seven phases awkward and incomplete. Taking a linear, phasic approach leads to some questionable categorization of project work. For example, breaking planning activities into two phases, preliminary and detailed planning, it not only inelegant, but it ignores the importance of continued planning processes. No plan survives contact with the enemy. You must constantly revisit the project plan and revise as necessary. Therefore, I disagree with the authors of this article that the EPMF "involves more planning phases than a generic project, a natural evolution for a process with risk exposure." Would anyone seriously argue that engineers designing jet planes, space craft, or nuclear power stations do less planning with "generic" (i.e. standard) project management processes than lawyers managing an e-discovery project? 

Moreover, breaking up planning this way--treating planning activities as phases--increases risk if you put planning aside and mindlessly work the plan once you step into the execution phase of the project. This brings me to my second major criticism of the EPMF: what about monitoring and controlling? 

It's hard to build monitoring and controlling into a linear, seven-phase framework, but the high-level EDRM diagram does a good job showing feed-back loops, so there is no reason the EPMF couldn't do the same. One might argue that the EPMF regards monitoring-and-controlling activities as part of the execution phase, to which I would respond, then why not include planning within execution, or at least put scoping under preliminary planning? A process-grouping approach, such as the PMBOK; which allows for concurrent and highly interactive planning, execution, and monitoring and controlling processes; provides a more practical framework for managing e-discovery projects.

I don't mean to nitpick. The EPMF is a good step forward and helps promulgate the importance of legal-project management. I just worry that less experienced e-discovery project managers may try to approach discovery projects with a ridged, linear, seven-step process and get beaten up by reality. Fleshing out the EPMF's Execution Phase subsections on tracking metrics, change management, and quality management will help address this concern, but there is a lot of pedagogical power in a well-designed diagram. The success of the EDRM is proof of this. 

That said, to be fair, the diagrams in the PMBOK often try to show too much. Whereas the EPMF suffers from over simplification, the PMBOK may seem overly complex to most lawyers and legal-support professionals trying to meet discovery deadlines. To the authors' credit, the article takes a very pragmatic tone. Rather than preach a specific methodology, they recognize that the usefulness of the EPMF is due as much to its mere existence as its usefulness in practice.

My diversion into the comparative merits of the EPMF and PMBOK, however, should not distract from the authors' two main points, with which I am in 100% agreement:

  • project-management competence is "an essential step in moving towards process maturity"; and

  • project and process management skills and tools are crucial to effective and efficient e-discovery project management.
That wraps up my discussion of the ILTA white paper on project management. My sixth and final post in this series will look at some of findings of ILTA's 2010 Survey on Legal Project Management. 



[1] International Legal Technology Association, Project Management: Ensuring Smooth Navigation (2010), available at http://www.mygazines.com/issue/18157/5 (last visited Oct. 30, 2010) [hereinafter ILTA].

[2] Randal Girouard & Sarah Brown, E-Discovery Project Management: Bringing Process to Practicein ILTA, supra note 1, at 28.

[3] See, e.g., Eric Elfman, Project Management? Shouldn't We be Talking About Process Management?, Onit Blog (Oct. 14, 2010), http://blog.onit.com/2010/10/project-management-shouldnt-we-be-talking-about-process-management/comment-page-1/#comment-435 (last visited 11/2/2010); Toby Brown, Process Innovation Over Legal Project Management, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog (Oct. 20, 2010, 9:29 AM), http://www.geeklawblog.com/2010/10/process-innovation-over-legal-project.html.

[4] EDRM Evergreen/Project Management, Electronic Discovery Reference Model, http://edrm.net/wiki2/index.php/EDRM_Evergreen/Project_Management (last updated Feb. 1, 2008).

[5] Project Managment Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (4th Ed. 2008).


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Kim Craig shared with me the results of the session survey from a presentation on LPM staff roles that she co-presented at the recent annual conference of the International Legal Technology Association. With her permission, I've made a PDF version avai... Read More

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on November 2, 2010 6:00 PM.

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