Project management is a deep topic, and when you combine it with eDiscovery best practices, it’s even a deeper topic. Some people (that’s you, Mike Q!) have even written books about it. But I write a blog, so I’ll limit this discussion to ten eDiscovery project management tips for more successful projects!
If you want to be a successful eDiscovery project manager, there’s a lot to learn – way more than I can convey in a single blog post. But hopefully these ten eDiscovery project management tips will make your projects more successful. They certainly have for me!
Ten eDiscovery Project Management Tips
1. Begin with the end in mind: You’re all familiar with the EDRM model, right? Here’s an old school version of the model. Notice anything wrong with it?
That’s right, this version of the model is backwards. When planning for your eDiscovery project, it’s often best to work backwards and start with the goals to be accomplished for the end phases and use that to guide your work at the beginning of the process. So, for the ESI that you plan to present, you’ll need to identify that ESI (and determine whether it’s in your possession or whether you need to request it from another party), and you’ll need to determine what ESI you need to preserve and collect to meet your production obligations. The volume of data that you expect may drive review decisions such as how many reviewers you may need or whether you should consider using Technology Assisted Review to conduct your ESI review. So, by starting “backwards” and determining your end goals, you can plan for your activities through the life cycle of the case. Define what done is, otherwise, you may never get there.
2. Create an ESI protocol and keep it evergreen: The ESI protocol is the most important document you can create at the outset of the case – it is the document that formalizes how issues related to ESI will be handled in your case and is literally your “blueprint” for discovery. The earlier you can propose yours to opposing counsel, the more likely you can resolve disputes without court intervention. It’s also important to revisit and update (if necessary) your ESI protocol template before each case as ESI trends change (as they found out in this case).
3. Communicate timelines and scope clearly: Discussions with your client about timelines to complete deliverables and the scope of those deliverables should always be communicated clearly and you should follow up any verbal discussions with written confirmation of your understanding as to agreements regarding timelines and scope. It’s amazing how many times you think you’re on the same page, but when it’s written down, you realize there was a misunderstanding. Better to identify those sooner rather than later.
4. Stay abreast of technology and legal trends: You don’t have to be a subject matter expert (SME) on the technology, but your client is going to expect you will understand it well enough to discuss it with them (and bring in that SME when needed). Likewise, your technical project team will need to understand the legal “whys” behind the steps they’re taking to preserve chain of custody, guard against inadvertent disclosures, and so forth. You need to understand both well enough to support that communication.
5. Understand the “triple constraint” of project management: All projects are carried out under three specific constraints – time, cost and scope. These three factors (commonly called ‘the triple constraint’) are represented as a triangle, with the idea being that: projects must be delivered within cost, projects must be delivered on time and projects must meet the agreed scope – no more, no less. I’ve been involved with eDiscovery projects where the scope has grown – sometimes considerably – for a variety of reasons and when it does, the time or the cost, or both, to complete the project will have to be greater. The typical saying for a project manager to set client expectations is to say “you can have it fast, cheap or good – pick two”. Make sure your clients understand that too.
6. Train, then delegate: You’re a project manager. That means you need to manage your team and delegate responsibilities to them, because you can’t do it all. But you need to set them up for success by providing (or ensuring they get) the proper training to succeed in their roles.
7. Praise publicly, counsel privately: When your team members perform well and have a key success, celebrate that! Praise them publicly in meetings, or in an email sent to the rest of the team (or even the client). When your team members mess up, discuss those mistakes in private with them and how they can learn from those mistakes. Criticizing your team members publicly usually backfires.
8. Emphasize QC before production: This is your last chance to find mistakes before a production goes out the door. Do everything you can to thoroughly QC the production set, including confirming that the correct number of documents are being produced, redactions are carefully applied, no privileged documents are included, etc. Have a checklist and make sure every item is checked.
9. Conduct a post-mortem of every project: Process improvement is a big part of project management, so take the opportunity after each project to sit with the team and discuss ways to improve and changes to make to avoid repeating mistakes made.
10. Own your mistakes: Speaking of mistakes, own them when you make them. Your team will respect you a lot more when you acknowledge your own mistakes instead of trying to throw someone else under the bus. Doing so here probably enabled me to keep my job!
So, what do you think of these ten eDiscovery project management tips? Do you have any others? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.