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LPM 2012 and Beyond: Legal Project Management Grows Up

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It is that time of the year again: this is the time when the blawgosphere looks back at the past year and prognosticates what the year ahead holds for the legal industry. Those of you who follow this blog will know that I'm not generally one for reading tea leaves. This year, however, I have decided to share my thoughts on how I think LPM will develop over the next few years, based upon the experiences of other industries and the history of modern project management. I hope you find it interesting and I wish you and yours health, happiness, and success in all of your endeavors in 2012 and beyond.


Table of Contents

A Baby is Born. 1

A Brief History of Project Management. 1

Unto a Full-Grown LPM... 3

LPM Gets Strategic. 3

LPM Goes Global 3

LPM Specializes. 4

LPM Weds Legal-Knowledge Management. 4

LPM Competencies Defined, Measured, and Continually Improved. 5

Organizational LPM Maturity Models Developed. 5

Applying Lessons Learned. 5


A Baby is Born

Legal-project management (LPM) is still in its infancy. Like new parents, law firms who have adopted LPM are still shaky on how to best ensure its healthy development.  Because the discipline is so new, one cannot simply look to the experiences of other law firms for a model of LPM maturity. There are few if any firms that have successfully made LPM an integral part of their cultures at all levels and in all domains. Therefore, when trying to envision what LPM will look like in the future, it is instructive to look back at how the discipline of project management developed in other industries. This article examines LPM development from both the individual and organizational levels and looks to the history of, and current trends in, project management to attempt to define some characteristics of LPM maturity.

A Brief History of Project Management

Project management has existed in some form since the dawn of civilization, becoming necessary once groups of people began working together to plan and accomplish complex objectives they could not achieve individually.[1] But project management's modern form was conceived during World War II and adopted in the post- and cold-war years by the aerospace, construction, and defense industries.  Better tools and techniques to plan and track work were necessary to manage large, technically complex projects involving vast sums of money.[2] The rise of project management as a profession began in the mid-to-late 1960s with the establishment of professional project-management associations, including the International Project Management Association (IPMA) and the Project Management Institute (PMI).  They were dominated by scheduling and cost-control technicians and, not surprisingly, project-management research in the 50s and 60s was focused on developing scheduling and tracking tools.[3] By the 1970s project management had become a distinctive discipline in its own right and began to spread to new industries.[4]

In the mid-1980s, the discipline of project management underwent puberty. This was a period of fast, disruptive growth, and boundless though sometimes directionless energy, in which its features became more fully defined. Through the creation of industry standards and the development of certifications, project-management associations integrated experiences from numerous industries into principles and practices of general applicability.[5] The advent of the personal computer; and the development of spreadsheet, scheduling, and other planning software for it; made project-management techniques more accessible to smaller businesses. Businesses that once believed project management was not applicable to their industries started to adopt a management-by-projects approach, applying project-management best practices across nearly all functional areas and to increasingly lower-value projects.[6]

Project managers in the 1980s started to find themselves managing multi-disciplinary teams in increasingly project-driven organizations. Businesses began to see project management as a methodology for responding to and initiating change. There was a shift in emphasis from project controls and "hard skills" (such as scheduling and cost control) to front-end analysis (such as risk identification and value analysis), external factors (such as stakeholder management and social responsibility), and soft skills (such as communication and team building). Unfortunately, most companies did not clearly define project roles and this often led to authority conflicts.[7]

Modern project management entered adulthood in response to the global recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which pushed companies into seeking longer-term and more focused business strategies. Project managers in the 90s were expected to focus more on business objectives, risk management, and customer acceptance, in addition to the more traditional focus on time, cost, and performance. Greater emphasis on the use of project charters increased the authority of project sponsors and decreased many of the political hurdles that previously plagued project managers.[8] Businesses and project-management associations began to developed maturity models to measure and improve business-process and project-management capabilities.[9]

The trends of the 90s continued to develop through the first decade of the new millennium. Businesses increasingly viewed project management as a core competency and began using it to support their strategic objectives through program and portfolio management processes. Once a high level of project-management maturity was realized, businesses were able to reduce management oversight of projects (ensuring projects were done right), which enabled an elevated focus on cross-program and portfolio management (ensuring the right projects were done).[10] Project-management associations have integrated and supported the best practices from these trends through the release of competency and organization-maturity models, as well as new standards for program and portfolio management.[11]

Unto a Full-Grown LPM

A study of project management's history, along with observing current macroeconomic trends, suggests a number of characteristics of highly mature LPM systems. Legal organizations with mature LPM capabilities:

  • align projects and programs to the organization's strategic objectives;

  • adapt their project-management systems to profit from changing circumstances in an increasingly connected world;

  • have specialized project-management models, training, and assessments for various practice groups, support functions, and even certain clients;

  • demonstrate highly mature knowledge-management processes that feed into and draw out of the organization's LPM processes;

  • have identified and defined project-management capabilities and developed metrics and programs for assessing and improving the project-management competency of its resources; and

  • measure the overall LPM maturity of their various domain groups and the organization as a whole.

Each of these characteristics is explored further in the sections below.

LPM Gets Strategic

Firms with a high level of LPM maturity will integrate project management with organizational management. Legal organizations will increasingly adopt portfolio-governance structures and best practices from other industries and develop methodologies for more efficiently managing groups of projects and ensuring that they support strategic business objectives.  An LPM-driven firm, for example, may perform project-opportunity assessments and create strategic-project offices and portfolio-review boards.

LPM Goes Global

Globalization, virtualization, and decomposition of project work into multiple sub-projects sourced to diverse organizations are creating new challenges and opportunities for project management. The internationalization of project management has led to efforts to develop a global body of project-management knowledge and the International Standards Organization is actively developing a standard for project management, with plans to develop portfolio and program-management standards.[12]   Global standards will make it easier for project managers to move between projects, organizations, and geographic locations. Having a common set of project-management definitions and processes will help multiple organizations work together on the same projects and create more efficient tendering processes.

Legal organizations are not immune from globalization. Increasing numbers of transnational legal projects will contribute to calls for more uniform commercial law and increased pressure on national and state law licensing authorities to develop more open multi-jurisdictional practice rules. In an effort to control legal spend, many businesses are unbundling and multisourcing the legal services they consume. To remain competitive, legal-service providers will need to develop LPM processes, mapped to international project-management standards, that consider and profit from an environment where they may provide their services as part of a multidiscipline, multinational, multi-organizational team of law firms, legal-process-outsourcing companies, litigation-support vendors, legal-staffing agencies, consultancies, and the client's internal stakeholders.

LPM Specializes

The new global ISO standards for project, program, and portfolio management will threaten and perhaps supplant established standards. Professional associations will seek to maintain relevance as standards-setting bodies by offering credentials and standards focused on specific knowledge-areas and methodologies.[13] They will also respond to increased pressure for industry-specific credentials and standards, as PMI has already done with construction and government extensions to its Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge.[14] While it is unlikely that a major project-management-professional association will develop an LPM standard in the near future, PMI has already established a Legal Project Management Community of Practice, which has attracted over 1,000 members in its first year.[15] It will, however, be legal and litigation-support consultancies and professional associations, who drive LPM specialization.

Already, a number of legal-business consultancies offer LPM certifications.[16] In the field of electronic discovery (e-discovery) the sub-specialization of LPM has begun. The Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM) project has begun work on developing an EDRM Project Management Framework.[17]  The creation of e-discovery certifications is further driving the development of e-discovery project management by emphasizing project-management skills in certification exams.[18]  The development of domain-specific LPM standards will occur in other areas of legal and litigation-support practice. Claims for LPM specialization in specific areas of law, however, will be constrained by professional-practice rules.[19]

LPM Weds Legal-Knowledge Management

Legal-knowledge management will become a progressively more important component of LPM. There is a growing awareness in the project-management community that knowledge is a critical project resource and there is a chorus of calls to more tightly integrate knowledge management into project-management processes, with some experts going so far as to suggest breaking knowledge management out as a separate subject area in project-management standards.[20] Transferring knowledge in project-driven organizations is made difficult because projects are of limited duration, often staffed by multinational teams of project specialists, from multiple organizations and disciplines, brought together temporarily.

In the law-firm environment, the problem of knowledge management is further compounded by traditionally hierarchical management structures and the highly competitive nature of many lawyers. Knowledge sharing, even if actively encouraged, is often limited in practice. Legal organizations need to ensure knowledge does not dissipate when the project team disbands.   Organizations with a high level of LPM maturity will have knowledge management baked into their project-management processes that draw from and feed into knowledge-management systems and will create strong incentives to share knowledge.

LPM Competencies Defined, Measured, and Continually Improved

The success of any LPM effort begins and ends with those individuals tasked with managing a firm's legal projects. Efforts to hire new project-management talent and develop the project-management competency of their existing attorneys and support staff will present firms with the challenge of how to define, assess, and develop LPM capabilities. Fortunately, models already exist. For example, PMI publishes the Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCDF) for assessing and developing the competency of the individual project manager. The PMCDF focuses on industry-neutral, project-management competence and aligns with PMI's standards for project, program, and portfolio management. It is meant to be complemented by organization and industry-specific competence requirements. Law firms will need to develop their own assessment mechanisms and adapt existing employee performance reviews to their organization-specific LPM-competency frameworks.

Organizational LPM Maturity Models Developed

As project management takes root in the legal industry, legal organizations will need some way of measuring and improving their organizational LPM capabilities. Here too, models already exist. PMI developed the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) to provide a means for organizations to assess their application of project management to best practices. It provides an organizational view of portfolio, program, and project management and is aligned with PMI's standards. It does not set forth a hierarchy of maturity levels. Instead, it defines a continuum of maturity, emphasizing the alignment of project, program, and portfolio results with strategic objectives achieved.

While the OPM3 provides a good starting point for firms looking to develop a model for measuring and improving their LPM capabilities, there are a number of areas that a legal organization would need to assess that is not covered in the OPM3. For example, law firms will need to incorporate into their LPM maturity models their best practices related to conflict-of-interest avoidance, protection of client confidences, avoiding violations of UPL statues, and other professional requirements.

Applying Lessons Learned

Knowing some of the characteristics of LPM maturity, and the trends influencing its development, gives law firms guidance on how to cultivate their own LPM systems. The legal industry has just begun the process of learning and applying the project-management lessons of other industries. The focus of most firms thus far has been on either broadly improving the basic project-management skills of the firm's lawyers and support personnel, or intensively developing project management in specific domain areas in the firm.  Firms with high-levels of LPM maturity, however, will have spread project-management capabilities deeply and broadly throughout their organizations and will manage projects and portfolios of projects in accordance with the firm's strategic objectives. In this time of great change in the legal industry, firms with mature LPM systems will enjoy a competitive advantage. To achieve this advantage, however, they must begin to plan for LPM maturity. This will require abandoning an attitude of industry exceptionalism and the foresight to look back at what's been done before.

[1] See Mark Kozak-Holland, The History of Project Management (2011). See also Y.C. Chiu, An Introduction to the History of Project Management: From the Earliest Times to A.D. 1900 (2010).

[2] For more about the history and development of modern project management, see Harold Kerzner, The Growth and Maturity of Modern Project Management, in PMI Seminars & Symposium Proceedings 697-703 (1996); Patrick Weaver, A Brief History of Project Management: Is Our Profession 50 or 5,000 Years Old?, Project (June 2007)[hereinafter Brief History]; Patrick Weaver, The Origins of Modern Project Management, Mosaic Project Services (Apr. 2007), (last visited Sept. 25, 2011) [hereinafter Origins]; Young Hoon Kwak, Brief History of Project Management, The Story of Managing Projects: An Interdisciplinary Approach 1 (Elias G. Carayannis, et al. eds., 2005); Alan Stretton, A Short History of Modern Project Management, PM World Today, Oct. 2007, available at (last visited Sept. 19, 2011).

[3] See, Weaver, Origins, supra note 2; Patrick Weaver, A Brief History of Scheduling: Back to the Future, Mosaic Project Services (Apr. 2006), (last visited Sept. 27, 2011); Janice Lynne Thomas, Jenny Krahn & Stella George, Shaping the Future of Project Management Research, Project Management Circa 2025, at 129 (David Cleland & Bopaya Bidanda eds. 2009).

[4] Stretton, supra note 2, at 9.

[5] An example of this in the United States is the Project Management Institute's (PMI) ethics, standards, and accreditation project, approved by PMI's board of directors in 1981, leading to publication of its first project-management standard in 1983. Special Report: Ethics, Standards, Accreditation, Project Mgmt. Q. (Aug. 1983). See also, Project Mgmt. Inst., A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge 359-360 (4th ed. 2008).

[6] See Kerzner, supra note 2, at 1, 3-6.

[7] See Id. at 5-7; Stretton, supra note 2, at 11-16.

[8] See Kerzner, supra note 2, at 5-7.

[9] In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) of Carnegie-Mellon University popularized the concept of organization maturity with its influential "Capability Maturity Model," which influenced the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model project that PMI chartered in 1998. See Project Mgmt. Inst., Organizational Project Management Maturity Model 109 (2d ed. 2008)[hereinafter OPM3].

[10] An interesting case study on the development of enterprise project management is IBMs use of program and portfolio management to address challenges in its transformation from a hardware and software company to a high-end services business. William C. Britton, IBM's Transformation from Project to Program and Portfolio Management, PMI Virtual Libr. (2007), (last visited Sept. 27, 2011).

[11] E.g., OPM3, supra note 8; Project Mgmt. Inst., Project Management Competency Development Framework (2d ed. 2002); Project Mgmt. Inst., Standard for Program Management (2005); Project Mgmt. Inst., Standard for Portfolio Management (2005).

[12] ISO/TC 236, Draft International Standard 21500: Guidance for Project Management (Sept. 6, 2011), available at (last visited Sept. 26, 2011).

[13] PMI is already doing this with its Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP), Risk Management Practitioner (PMI-RMP), and Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP) credentials and its standards for scheduling, project estimating, project configuration, work-breakdown structures, risk management, and earned-value management. For a list credentials currently available through PMI, see Certification, Project Mgmt. Inst., (last visited Sept. 24, 2011). For a list of PMI's current library of standards, see Library of Global Standards, Project Mgmt. Inst., (last visited Sept. 24, 2011).

[14] Project Mgmt. Inst., Government Extension to the PMBOK Guide Third Edition (2006); Project Mgmt. Inst., Construction Extension to the PMBOK Guide Third Edition (2d ed. 2007).

[15] PMI Legal Project Mgmt. Community of Prac.,

[16] E.g., The Certified Project Manager Program, LegalBizDev, (last visited Sept. 27, 2011); Certification in Legal Project Management Offered by Hildebrandt Baker Robbins and the Hildebrandt Institute, HBR Consulting (Mar. 1, 2011),  

[17] EDRM Evergreen/Project Management, Electronic Discovery Reference Model (Feb. 1, 2008),; Project Management Guide, Electronic Discovery Reference Model (Feb. 1, 2008), (last visited Sept. 27, 2011).

[18] For example, the Association for Certified Electronic Discovery Specialists emphasizes project-management skills in its certification exam, with "project planning" and "project management" being two of the 15 areas of focus tested. Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists, Certified E-Discovery Specialist Examination Candidate Handbook 16 (Jun. 2011), available at (last visited Sept. 27, 2011). Project management is also an area tested by the Organization of Legal Professionals in its certification exam. Organization of Legal Professionals, Certified E-Discovery Professional Candidate Handbook 11 (2011), available at (last visited Sept. 27, 2011).

[19] See e.g., Model Rules of Prof'l Conduct R. 7.4(d) (2011)("A lawyer shall not state or imply that a lawyer is certified as a specialist in a particular field of law, unless: (1)the lawyer has been certified as a specialist by an organization that has been approved by an appropriate state authority or that has been accredited by the American Bar Association; and (2) the name of the certifying organization is clearly identified in the communication." While project-management certifications would clearly fall outside the scope of such rules limiting claims of specialization, legal-project management specializations and e-discovery certifications could present more of a gray area, especially those that limit the certifications to lawyers. The rules of professional conduct in some U.S. states are more permissive regarding communication of certifications than the ABA rule. For example, allowing lawyers to communicate the fact that they are certified by a named organization but requiring a disclaimer if it is not recognized by bar association or other body governing the practice of law in the state. E.g., Hawaii Rules of Prof'l Conduct R. 7.4(c) (1994).

[20] The Project Management Association of Japan's standard, for example, places great emphasis on project-knowledge management, with every domain's (i.e., knowledge area or subject) objectives, work processes, and results interfacing with a knowledge database. See Project Mgmt. Ass'n of Japan, A Guidebook of Project & Program Management for Enterprise Innovation (2005), available at (last visited Sept. 24, 2011). See also Stanislaw Gasik, A Model of Project Knowledge Management, Project Mgmt. J., Apr. 2011, available at (last visited Sept. 27, 2011); Stanislaw Gasik, Comments on the ISO 21500 Draft Version, Sybena Consulting, at 6, available at (last visited Sept. 24, 2011).

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on December 28, 2011 8:18 AM.

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