Category Archives for "Improve Your Strategy"

Harvard Business Review on Enterprise Agile

For anyone who has been following the Agile movement, it is no surprise that Agile has grown far beyond its roots in software development to encompass business processes of all sorts.

McKinsey consulting has a step-by-step guide for Agile Marketing. Leading Agile trainer Steve Denning talks about Agile for Human Resources in Forbes. And a growing segment of respondents to the annual State of Agile survey come from outside of technology teams.

More recently, Harvard Business Review featured Enterprise Agile as its cover story, Continue reading

Being Lean > Doing Lean

It’s been awhile since I made a blog post out of a Twitter thread, but this seemed like as good a topic as any. (Oddly enough, the last one also had to do with the concept of waste).

I recently re-published an old post on “The Seven Wastes of Lawyers” which I readily admit is the most click-baity post I’ve ever done. Who doesn’t like to think of lawyers as incredibly wasteful? In the four years since I originally wrote it, however, my thinking has evolved a bit, and I still plan a more detailed post on that.

In the mean time, I had an interesting exchange with Peter Connor, who is doing some great work helping his clients improve their legal operations. Here it is in 7 tweets:

Want to talk about how to begin a Lean/Agile transformation in your legal team? Don’t hesitate to start a conversation with me. Or, if you’re not ready for that yet, you can always join the Agile Attorneys Slack Group.

A SMART Approach to Goal-Setting

Before I dig too far into the importance of setting goals, and setting them the right way, let’s get this out of the way:

The Goal of any business system, process, or workflow is to derive Profit for the business by delivering Value to the customer.

This is undeniably true. Now Profit, as I explained in one of my earliest posts, isn’t just about money. But in the broadest sense, you need to be deriving some Profit from your practice or else there’s no point in having one.

(This notion of “The Goal” is taken from a book by that name by seminal Lean thinker Eli Goldratt, father of the Theory of Constraints. I’ve written lots about that theory, and will certainly do so again. Also, it’s the basis of the book The Lean Law Firm that I recently reviewed).

So while earning a Profit is “The Goal” for your practice, you still need to be able to articulate some other goals to help you know whether you are on track to finding (and maximizing) that Profit.

Let’s also touch on “the money thing” before we get too far. Yes, there are many types of Profit, and many of them are more important than money. But not all of them are going to pay your rent next month.

So yes, I get that money is important, and we’ll account for it. But if making more money is your only goal, then my concepts probably aren’t for you. It’s a little like trying to see a shooting star—if you go looking specifically for one they can be elusive. But if you put yourself in the right situations, with the right attitude, then a number of them will become apparent to you.

That said, let’s start with a money goal. How about “I want to have a $500,000 a year law practice.” That’s a fine goal, and one that is totally achievable for many lawyers in many markets. Some of you may have already blown past it.

There’s just one problem with it: It isn’t really a goal, it is an aspiration. Or maybe a hope, or an intent. But it isn’t a goal, at least not by my definition.

Here’s why: In my experience (drawn from the teachings of many intelligent folks before me), a goal isn’t a Goal unless it is a SMART goal. Which is to say, it contains the following elements:

Specific

Measurable

Actionable

Realistic

Time-bound

Let’s evaluate that half a million a year law practice in light of those criteria (note: there are other answers for some of the letters, but this is my blog and I like these).

Is it Specific? Kind of. The number is finite, but what do you mean by your law practice? Is it just you? Is it 10 people? What types of products and services are you selling? Where? To Whom?

I’m not saying you need to go deep into the weeds (that’s what sub-goals are for—more on that in a minute), but having at least a high-level sense of where that money is gonna come from would be better. Maybe “I want to build a $500,000 a year family law practice with just my current team.” (Could be Immigration, or Estate Planning, or Employment Litigation—you get the idea).

You might also be missing an important part of the picture with a straight revenue goal—will that practice be profitable? Generating $500k in gross revenues and reaping $250k in net profits are very different goals. You can’t just assume that one will necessarily lead to the other, so better to be clear about which is more important to you.

Is it Measurable? Again, kind of. Yes, you can calculate your revenue per year pretty easily, and for this high-level goal that is probably enough. Here too, however, we’ll want to develop some sub-goals that will help you gauge whether you’re on track to this big one.

Is it Actionable? That’s a little less clear. One does not simply go out and find half a million a year, at least not in most industries. Part of this depends on where you are today. If, for example, you are already grossing $20k/month ($240k/year for you math-phobes), then maybe you can get there, but the goal itself, as stated, doesn’t show you the way.

What if instead you set a goal to grow those $20k revenues by 3% per month? That means finding another $600 in month one; that seems like something you can do, right? And then another $620 in month 2, $640 in month 3, and so on. Now you’re not going to hit those numbers exactly—some months will be a little over and others will full short.

But, through the miracle of compounding, if you average that 3% monthly growth over the course of a little less than two years you’ll have doubled your revenues to that $500k/annual target.

How about Realistic? Again, depends on your starting point. If you hung your shingle last week fresh out of law school, then you probably want to find a smaller interim milestone to shoot for. If you just left your big-law gig after 10 years with a $500k book of business, then it should be a softball.

But other factors come into play too. If you‘re projecting 30% growth out of a rural practice in a community with 18% unemployment and a couple other lawyers in town, you may want to reconsider. If you have a national profile evaluating cryptocurrency ICOs for SEC compliance risk, then your projections might make more sense.

(As an aside, strong growth is possible in both of the above situations, even the less likely one. Just not necessarily with your current business model. More on that in a future post).

Finally, is it Time-bound? For the $500k/year goal as originally stated, the answer is no. Sure you want that kind of revenue, but by when? Establishing a deadline is the key difference between a goal and a hope.

Setting a time limit is also important to setting the context of the other parts of the SMART framework. Is $500k/year realistic next year? Sure, if you booked $450k last year, but not if you’re new to practice. Same goes for Actionable. For that newbie, a goal of hitting $500k/year by year 5 of your business might make more sense (although that kind of long-term forecasting is hard to make actionable in the short term).

One final thought on timing: whatever your long-term plans make sure you break them down into sub-goals between 30 and 90 days long? Why? Some experts believe there is something about the human psyche that makes it hard to have an actionable plan for something that will happen more than 90 days in the future.

The problem is that for short-term goals then we can imagine our current selves being in that future state. But beyond 90 days we tend to think of that future-me as another person entirely, therefore it is harder to relate to that person.

Which is a great segue into sub-goals. This post is already long, so I won’t dive down too many rabbit holes, but know that you need to nest some sub-goals in under your main goals if you want them to be truly actionable.

Going back to my 3% monthly growth example, where is that growth going to come from? If you currently make your money on the back of 20 in-progress matters, (giving you an average monthly revenue of $1,000 per matter), perhaps your sub-goal is to add one high-quality matter to your mix above your replacement rate in the next month (meaning if you close 2 matters in that time, you need to pick up 3 new ones).

Can your team handle that increased volume? If not, perhaps you need to set a productivity goal to make sure you have the necessary capacity. Fail to improve your productivity and you may need to add resources (like hiring someone) in order gain the capacity to hit your target.

Is your marketing able to deliver enough high-quality leads to bring in that extra matter? If not, you may need to invest in an upgrade. Or maybe you don’t have a strong sales technique to convert your existing leads to clients, or your intake is so sloppy that you’re not able to realize revenue from those clients as quickly as you ought to.

(This, by the way, is getting back into Bottleneck Theory: Once you have a goal, you need to find the single bottleneck in your system (and there is only one) that is preventing you from meeting that goal.)

I’ll leave it there for now, but hopefully you get the idea.

Those last ideas, by the way? They’re not really goals, they’re strategies. Improving productivity, enhancing marketing, increasing conversion: all are techniques you can try to help you hit those high-level goals. Put another way, they are experiments you can (and should) run to find out what is going to work. And, as experiments, they should have their own measurements and targets, but more on that in my next post.

In the mean time, think about what you are trying to accomplish this year as a firm (or team, or with your specific practice) and try to frame them in the context of some SMART goals. The process of thinking through them will clarify things for you and help you develop a realistic action plan for hitting your specific, measurable, and time-bound targets.

Want help? Need someone to bounce your ideas off of, or even to hold you accountable to your progress? That’s what I do. Don’t hesitate to reach out and start a conversation with me.

Mission. Goals. Strategies. Tactics. Part 1: An Introduction.

I’m probably most often thought of as a legal project management guy. Which makes sense since I’ve named my business after my preferred project management toolset.

But for most of the teams I work with, project management turns out to be a relatively small part of the job. Why? Well, for one thing it may not be their primary bottleneck at the moment (although there are solid Lean and Agile techniques to help determine what that bottleneck is and help understand how to fix it).

More often it is because using project management is a Strategy, and specific project management efforts are Tactics, and Strategies and Tactics are of only limited utility unless they are expressed within the context of the team’s Mission and Goals.

I refer to these four areas as “Domains of Activity,” and if you’re going to make any sort of progress with your enterprise (yes, your law practice, but really any human enterprise), you have to understand what they are and how they relate to each other.

I draw them like this:

Domains of Activity_crop

Down the left side of the drawing I’ve put chains. That’s because the Goals have to hang from the Mission, the Strategies have to hang from the Goals, and the Tactics have to hang from the Strategies.

Up the right side I’ve put pillars. That’s because the Tactics have to support the Strategies, the Strategies have to support the Goals, and the Goals have to support the Mission.

When an organization isn’t making progress, or when progress is haphazard, at least 25% of the time it is because the organization itself (and especially its leadership) is unclear about how the things they are doing in one domain relates to the things they are trying to accomplish in the other domains.

The other 75% of the time? It’s because they failing to consider at least one of the domains altogether.

This is especially true at the enterprise level. Your law firm—or the company you work for, or the company you run—ought to have a Mission, needs to have Goals, better have at least one Strategy, and almost certainly is engaged in some Tactics (I don’t have to worry about Tactics—that seems to be where many people are most active).

It works on more granular levels too. Your practice group? Your in-house legal team? The matter you’re working on? If it is going to run well, you need to be considering all of the domains. What’s more, you should also understand how your granular set of answers relates back to the primary domains for your enterprise (or your client).

With this series of posts I’ll examine each of the domains in-turn, I’ll offer some tips for how to craft and express your thinking for each, and I’ll talk about how they relate to each other (and what to do if they don’t).

If there’s anything in particular you’d like to see, or questions you’d like me to answer, please don’t hesitate to reach out while I’m working on the posts themselves.

Or, if you’d like my help getting your domains in order (this is one of those things where an outside perspective can really help crystallize your thinking), please don’t hesitate to start a conversation with me.

Continue on to: MGST Part 2: Articulating your Mission.

Pitfalls of Lawyer Problem Solving and Eminence-Driven Decision Making

Lately I’ve been thinking about what I see as one of the great shortcomings of the way we lawyers approach problem solving,  i.e. our proud tradition of following the Case Method and tenets like stare decisis and adherence to precedent. These tools all have their benefits, especially in the context of maintaining a consistent set of legal rules for society to govern itself. But for finding solutions outside the context of the courtroom—the kinds of problems we face every day in running a business or developing a practice—the traditional lawyer’s tools are deeply flawed.Continue reading

A Brief Debrief of my “Fireside Chat” at Clio Cloud Conference

fireside-chat-image

 

That was super fun.

For those of you who weren’t there, I just got done speaking at the Clio Cloud Conference 2015 where I was interviewed by Clio CEO Jack Newton on the basics of Agile and how to adopt it for legal practice. What I loved about the conversation is that Jack truly gets the power of Agile–Clio uses Scrum to develop its software, uses Kanban to manage other parts of the business like marketing and HR, and lives by Lean Startup principles in developing its product line. They even use the Business Model Canvas and Design Thinking when scoping out potential customer offerings. Continue reading

The Role of Technology in Legal Innovation

I’ve just finished my second watching of a great video posted this week by the Stanford Center for the Legal Profession titled “Implementing Innovation: The Challenges to Changing Big Law” (embedded below, h/t to Steph Kimbro). It features Stephen Poor, Chair of Seyfarth Shaw, Ron Dolin, Research Fellow with the Center on the Legal Profession, and Thomas Buley, JD/MBA candidate at Stanford.

The whole thing is fascinating, but I’m going to skip over the bit where Dolin and Buley present their paper discussing whether the “Innovator’s Dilemma” will lead to large-scale incumbent failure in Big Law. (Margaret Hagan has a good set of tweets about it.) I’m also going to skip Poor’s discussion of the incredible perception/behavior gap exposed by the recent Altman Weil “Law Firms in Transition” report (the one where 93% of law firm leaders say that a focus on practice efficiency is a permanent trend yet only 37% say they are changing their strategic approach to efficiency).

More interesting to me, probably because this is a drum I’ve been beating a lot lately, is Mr. Poor’s take on the role of technology in legal innovation (or, more accurately, the oft-neglected role of process). Continue reading

Improve your legal ops first, then improve your software.

post-it cube

If you’ve been following this site, you know that I’ve already blogged Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 from my forthcoming book, Kanban for Lawyers. The next chapter (below) is more of an interlude, but it hits on an important point. Too many lawyers (and people in general) look at technology as some sort of magic wand that will fix all ills. Sure there is some intuitive and transformative technology out there. But even with the best tech tools, most technologists will admit that the real improvements come from the process changes that the technology inspires.

And if the technology isn’t one of those truly magical things like the iPhone or Gmail where process improvements are almost intuitive (even if you don’t use them, these things were transformative when they launched), then focusing on adapting your workflows is even more important. Even though legal tech has made huge strides, as Seyfarth Shaw’s Ken Grady said recently, law has yet to see our “killer app.”

Rather than making a big investment in technology then, most legal teams would do better to model some improvements in the physical world before mapping those changes to the virtual one. In Jason Freid’s and David Hansson’s excellent book REWORK, they point out that removing layers of abstraction is often the key to major breakthroughs (see p. 97). This is especially true with process change.

So break out a pack of sticky notes and clear space on your wall or white board. Then spend some time bodily interacting with your work and your process. You’ll be amazed at what you discover when you do.

Kanban for Lawyers Chapter 2.5: A Word About Software

By this point you’ve probably started thinking “I bet there is some great software tool I could use to automate this!” Your Google or App Store search history may already contain some version of the term “kanban app.”

This is natural, I get it. It is a good thought actually. And yes, there are some great programs out there for building and maintaining Kanban systems.

But you’re not ready.

Soon we will be able to consider software, but first you need to know why making an investment in researching, buying, implementing, and maintaining a software tool is the best possible use of your resources right now. And right now, it is not.

You just built your first Kanban board with an incredibly low investment. Now this board hasn’t helped you deliver greater value to your customers (yet), and it hasn’t enabled you to capture some of that value in the form of revenue (yet), but it has given you something that is even more important to your long-term success: knowledge.

This Minimum Viable Product you’ve created, along with the retrospective you just conducted, has taught you something. And it promises to teach you much, much more without a whole lot of additional investment. But if you go off and install an app, your relative investment in this thing will skyrocket. You’ll have to pay some money, spend some time learning the tool, and you’ll risk being sucked down the rabbit hole of endless configuration and modification.

I’m glad you’re excited and I understand your desire to get this Kanban thing up and running as quickly as possible. But moving quickly isn’t the point: The point is learning. Learning how to see your workflow. Learning about your tasks and your products (yes, you have products) and how to describe your work. Learning how to recognize value and how to avoid waste. These things will come, and they will come more quickly than you expect. But software will force you into some programmer’s view of how you should work, and that will inhibit your learning. At best it will delay your progress, and at worst it will stall your efforts completely. And then all your investment will have been for naught.

There is something irreplaceable about learning in a physical environment. A big part of what we’re trying to do is get you to truly see your workflow in the broadest sense, and I doubt you have a screen that can rival your wall for size and scope and taking it all in. Even if you do (and someday we probably will), there is something tactile and kinesthetic about bodily interacting with the stickies and columns on your board. Once you learn to see, and feel, and experience your workflow in a physical way, then you will be in a position to translate that experience to a virtual tool.

You may even decide to start using software at that point, but you may not. I know of people and teams who have been using Kanban for years without making that choice. If and when you do come to that decision, however, I want it to be from a position of strength. Strength comes from confidence, and confidence comes from knowledge and experience.

Building strength, however, requires training, and effective training must follow a plan. Right now your training plan involves channeling your inner Rocky Balboa to move physical objects through the world, not some mechanistic Ivan Drago interacting with newfangled machines. It may seem rustic, maybe a little quaint, but I guarantee you there is no better way to train.

So please, set aside your software aspirations for now, and let’s get stronger.

 

Photo Credit: Angela, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

© 2015, John E. Grant

The Best Little Book about Lawyering You’ve Never Heard Of (That isn’t Really about Lawyering)

We lawyers are accustomed to borrowing from the worlds of other professionals. We share much with consultants and accountants, maybe a little less with doctors or architects, but they’re all smart folks with fancy educations like ours, and we glean things every now and again that improve our own practices.

I recently stumbled across a brilliant little book about a professional service that I frankly can’t stop gushing about. It captures the journey from the strictures of learning and training and theory to the development of the professional’s self and style, as necessitated by her more complete understanding of, and empathy for, her client. Continue reading

The Surprising(ly Negative) Power of Incentives

I’m a fan of Daniel Pink. I think he does an excellent job breaking down complex business problems and encouraging new ways of thinking about them. I especially like his 2009 book Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and I keep coming back to it when I think about creating Value.

A key topic of that book is the complex interplay of reward, incentive, and motivation. In the book (and in a related Ted Talk) Pink explains an experiment using an old puzzle called the Candle Problem. I won’t re-hash the whole thing, but the upshot is that a group of subjects was asked to solve a puzzle and told they were being timed—but only to establish a baseline. When a second group was asked to work on the same puzzle but were offered a decent cash reward for finishing in the top 25% (and a larger reward for reaching #1), the time for that group to complete the puzzle changed…Continue reading

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