Harnessing Generational Challenges for Effective Project Management #PMOSym

PMO Symposium, 11-14 November 2018, Washington D.C. USA

Session Description: Wow! Five generations in the workforce: iGen or Generation Z, Millenniels (aka Generation Y), Gen X, Baby Boomers, and Traditionalists (those born before 1945). Project managers will need to communicate, understand, and motivate their core/extended teams capitalizing the workforce. This is a skillset that can be developed via learning and adoptive practice. Join Brigid Buchheit Carney as she uses Senn Delaney’s behavioral styles and Knoster’s Managing Complex Change. Senn Delaney, like DISC, will teach participants about behavioral styles and how to flex to others. The Knoster model will teach participants how to develop a communication framework for success.

At the conclusion of this session, participants will be able to:
1) Solve tough behavioral challenges by better understanding team dynamics.
2) Shift beyond traditional leadership by using a framework for communications.
3) Predict communication breakdowns and resolve them.

Speaker:  Brigid Buchheit Carney is the head of operations at Argus Group in Hamilton, Bermuda.

[These are my notes from the PMO Symposium 2018 . I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Why focus on generational challenges and behavioral styles?  Your projects will involve people from five different generations. Each of these team members also has their unique behavioral style. You need to craft your approach and messages for each generation and each style.
  • The Generations.
    • Traditionalists — born before 1945
    • Baby Boomers
    • Gen X
    • Millennials (Gen Y)
    • iGen (Gen Z)
  • Knoster Model for Managing Complex Change. Designed to develop organizational awareness and understand why projects fail. If you are missing any of the following elements, you will run the risk of failure.
    • Vision –Do you understand what you need to do AND why you need to do it? If you don’t understand why you are doing something, you end up in confusion, falling short of your goals.
    • Consensus — with five generational styles, you need five different ways to build consensus. Without consensus, you have sabotage and blame.
    • Skills — an absence of skills leads to anxiety
    • Incentives — an absence of appropriate incentives leads to resistance
    • Resources — an absence of adequate resources (including time for development, planning, reflection) leads to frustration
    • Action Plan — an absence leads to false starts and the sense of being on a treadmill
    • Culture = the way we do things
    • For more information on the Knoster Model, see
  • Senn Delaney Behavioral Styles.
    • Conductor
      • They are Type A and do not like to be told what to do
      • They strong-willed, self-motivated, results-focused
      • When crafting messages for them, focus on
        • results
        • decisions
        • efficiency
    • Promoter
      • They are enthusiastic, energetic, persuasive, adventurous, creative
      • They like shiny objects and hte next big thing. It is very difficult to get them to focus. However, they are really helpful when you need to deliver a difficult message.
      • They are happy to help others.
      • You have to help them keep their focus.
      • When crafting messages for them, focus on
        • big pictre thinking
    • Analyzer
      • Give them data, don’t ask them to go with their gut.
      • They will do things to the best of their ability. They know they are better at things then others.
      • Crafting messages
        • researchers
        • 2+2=4
        • Facts and figures
    • Supporter
      • They are relationship-oriented, team players, consensus builders
      • They will always ask for help.
      • When crafting messages for them, focus on
        • decision by committee
        • last to speak
        • subject mattter experts
        • speak face-to-face, but start with social conversation before jumping into the heart of the matter.
  • Exercises that appeal to each style.
    • Controlling
      • Mini-PM RAID log boss (RAID = Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Dependencies)
      • Don’t to a “ra ra” activity
    • Analyzing
      • Yes…and… exercise
      • Time-boxing — this avoids analysis paralysis
      • Five Whys
    • Supporting
      • Affinity brainstorming
      • Polling
      • Telephone — ask this supporter to be your communication maven
    • Promoting

Value Delivery in a Age of Disruption

PMO Symposium, 11-14 November 2018, Washington D.C. USA

Session Description: Disruption is the norm for organizations. Disruptive innovation is now seen as required to stay competitive in a world of emerging technologies, globalization and changing demographics. This is changing the way we work, blurring industry boundaries and forcing even established organizations to rethink their business strategies to find effective ways to deliver value. What are the implications for organizations when disruption will change the way projects are delivered and leaders are required to lead more agile organizations? What are the challenges and opportunities? How do organizations effectively use their project talents to evolve existing practices, provide value while positioning themselves for long term success? This session brings together experienced executives to share their perspectives and insights on managing projects and change when disruption is a constant in their value delivery.


  • Joanie F. Newhart, Associate Administrator for Acquisition Workforce Programs at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), Office of Management and Budget and Executive Office of the President
  • Laura K. Furgione, Chief, Office of Strategic Planning, Innovation and Collaboration, U.S. Census Bureau
  • Beth Partleton served on the PMI Board of Directors from 2008 to 2013, serving as Chair in 2011. For six years she was a member of the PMI Educational Foundation Board of Directors, serving as Chair in 2006. Currently she is a member of the Certification Governance Council, serving as Vice Chair.
  • Linda Ott, Division Chief, Professional Development, Office of Project Management, Department of Energy (DOE)

[These are my notes from the PMO Symposium 2018 . I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • What skills will the workforce of the future need?
    • staying abreast of technology and understanding how we can leverage it.
    • understanding how to use data productively AND protect data privacy
  • How to improve the management of major acquisitions (contracting).
    • make sure that the members of the team with critical expertise get involved in the planning and execution early
    • they have started a new certification program that teaches government contracting officers how to manage digital acquisition contracting successfully. It is experiential, small-group training.
  • How does the Census Bureau deliver value?
    • Their demographic and economic data can help
      • federal and local emergency responders prepare for a climate event
      • government and private sector groups manage development after a climate disaster
  • Successes at the Department of Energy.
    • They run really large projects — sometimes worth several billions of dollars
    • They capture enormous amounts of data from their projects.
      • Their job is to understand and explain through these data the value the public receives from these projects
      • This helps the public understand how their tax dollars are being used
    • They focus on how to explain value to the public — not just explaining it to other scientists.
  • How can project leaders and their teams lead technology-driven projects.
    • DIUx: the defense department and the department of housing services are talking to and working with Silicon Valley to find technologists who can become valuable partners with government. The appeal for these new technology partners is that they can have an impact at an enormous scale when they work through government.
    • They are looking at new ways to streamline the acquistion (government contracting) process.
    • The department of homeland security has a procurement innovation lab. They innovate new ways of working and then share the success stories widely — within government and with industry partners.
  • What are the Data Capabilities and Skills at the Census Bureau.
    • One of the objectives in their strategic plan is to use innovative tools to increase their efficiency and use of their tools, as well as the efficient reuse of their data.
    • Linking as much of their data as possible to derive new insights
    • Ensuring that their regular environmental scans shape their strategic plan (which is a living document)
    • What skills are they recruiting for?
      • They are taking a closer look at the skills required for exploiting the data for multiple uses
      • They are also examining what technological skills their team needs
  • What they look for in their workforce.
    • They are looking for curious minds
      • The ability to focus on your own mission, while staying wide open to what is happening around you
    • Natural problem-solvers
    • The ability to connect their work to the needs of their users / consituents
    • The ability to communicate their work to the public
  • The Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act.
    • PMIAA is a game changer because it tries to reach federal agencies where they are with respect to program management.
      • some agencies have fewer resources so they may not be as advanced with respect to project management
    • How to understand your projects, next put them in programs, then put those programs in portfolios and ensure that they connect clearly with strategy.
    • This helps develop a deep bench of experienced and capable project managers
    • The Federal PM Community of Practice is very active and engaged. They are helping spread PMIAA across the government
    • It helps focus on evaluation, quality assessment, and continuous attention to lessons learned.
  • PMO  Leadership.
    • Communication: 90% of your effort should focus on communicating with your stakeholders AND your team.
      • You need to listen, listen, listen
      • You need to understand the strengths and challenges of your team members
    • What’s our Value? Learn how to tie your efforts back to the values and strategy of your organization. What’s your elevator speech? What’s the value in what you do?
      • Do you have a crisp way of explaining how you are a value to (and not a burden on) your organization?
    • Collaborate Early and Often: don’t wait until an emergency or problem arises. That’s too late.
    • Customer Focus: talk to your customers early and often. Don’t assume you know what they want. You likely don’t.

Lisa Bodell Keynote: Why is Change so Hard? #ILTACON

Session Title and Description: Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution

What holds you back from better innovating, every day? In too many organizations, we’re stuck in the land of status quo. We’ve forgotten how to think differently, and lack the simple tools to solve problems creatively. The very structures put in place to help organizations grow are now holding us back. This keynote is an inspirational call to arms: to start a revolution in how we think and how we work.

Speaker: Lisa Bodell, Founder and CEO of futurethink

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2018 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • How to detect change?  How do you keep your antennae up to detect signals of change so you can respond to possible, probable, and preferable scenarios.
  • What we say do and what we actually do are different. We can learn a lot from the gap. Wearables can track mood and actual activity. The challenge is to understand how this affects the customer and employee experience. Equally challenging: what concerns does this raise?
  • “The future is not who you ARE. The future is who you are BECOMING.”  If you are forward-looking you can influence the future rather than have it inflicted on you.
  • Partnerships are Key. Partner with the people who scare you the most. That partnership will force you into new ways of thinking and doing.
  • Practice Proactive Obsolescence. Palgrave Macmillan has set up a venture fund to invest in businesses that will put old-school publishing out of business. This means that they get in on the ground floor of their replacements.
  •  Why don’t we respond to change? Complexity & complacency. Most people spend the bulk of their days at work in meetings and doing email. (This is not inspiring.) It drives them to their to-do lists, it focuses them on the mundane.  Then they slide into complacency. These people cannot think about the future, they cannot think about change.
  • What do we value? What do we reward?
    • More vs Less
    • Doing vs Thinking
    • Internal vs External
  • “Thinking is a Daring Act.”  It requires alone time and quiet time.
    • The brain is an incredible organ. It starts working from the moment you wake up and doesn’t stop until you enter your office!
  • How open to change is your organization? Count how many times you can answer yes to the following questions:
    • People in our organization actively push the boundaries of what’s seemingly possible and apply critical thinking to all parts of our work
    • Our employees are comfortable asking provocative and sometimes unsettling questions to stretch thinking
    • When faced with challenges, our people can think on their feet and nimbly change direction
    • Our employees do not easily give up their ides when encountering adversity, and generally see them through
    • We’re constantly looking forward to the next 5-10 years, and actively seek solutions on how to stay ahead
    • We purposefully hire people with diverse backgrounds and create project teams with a variety of disciplines and experiences.
    • We look at what other industries adjacent or unrelated to ours are doing. We apply their best practices to our work.
    • We always encourage people to eliminate redundancies, rules, and processes that create complexity, so they can focus on more important work.
    • How many times could you answer Yes?
      • 1-2  = status quo
      • 3-5 = risk taker
      • 6-8 = change maker
  • Your job as a leader is to reduce the friction.  This means eliminating the hurdles (e.g., processes, assumptions, practices) that stop your team from doing great work.
  • The key is to ask killer QUESTIONS. In earlier times, the focus was on finding the right answer. However, today you can find the answer to any question. (Google has an answer to any questions.) The key is to ask the RIGHT question.
  • Kill Stupid Rules. Focus on your sphere of control. (But don’t touch rules that are in place to ensure regulatory compliance.) Ask your team: what two stupid rules we should eliminate? They will show you the things that get in their way and slow them down.
  • Empower Decision-Making. Be willing to let your team make decisions. Support the decisions they make. And then find useful things to do with your new-found free time.
  • How to fix your focus?
    • Ask yourself and your team to create a list of their Typical Tasks
    • Then ask them to strike out the things on that list that are a waste of time
    • Next, ask them to create a list of Desired Work. Then strategize with them on how to shift their focus to the work that actually expands opportunity for themselves and their organization.
  • Concrete ways to gain more time
    • Kill stupid meetings
    • change the frequency of meetings
    • NNTR = type “no need to respond” in the subject line or body of an email. This will reduce the number of unnecessary emails.
    • “Cut the crap committee” = this volunteer committee identifies things that can be eliminated so everyone can focus on the things that matter.
  • You can kill stupid rules. You can kill stupid meetings. You CANNOT kill stupid people.

Are You Choosing Change?

It can feel at times that others are foisting change on us uninvited. However, in our finger pointing, we do not always admit that there are times when we should actively be choosing change; we do not see that sometimes our actions get in the way of helpful change.

One of the great benefits of life as a consultant is that I have the privilege of working with a variety of clients across a range of industries. As a result, I am able to compare experiences and learning from each industry to see how unique or generally applicable they are. The more I do this work, the more I realize that humans in every industry behave in similar ways.

This realization was brought home to me again earlier this month while working with groups of senior executives from completely different industries. Both groups found themselves in very difficult situations at work. And, while new management kept saying that things would be different under their guidance, the executives found it hard to believe.

To be honest, they had reason to be skeptical. These executives had grown up in their organizations and seen several management teams come and go. The executives felt they were the only guardians of institutional memory and could cite chapter and verse regarding what had been tried before and what had failed. For them, there was nothing new under the sun.

For the new management team, this was incredibly frustrating. They believed they had promising plans for their organization but faced a brick wall of recalcitrance whenever they broached the possibility of change.

My question to the executives was simple: What will you do differently this time to ensure success? This began an interesting conversation about learned behaviors and reflexive actions that, in the aggregate, made it remarkably difficult to bring about change. It was almost as if through these learned behaviors and reflexive actions the executives were trying to preserve the status quo — no matter how dysfunctional.

For example, when management proposed an idea, the executives might say, “We tried that before. It failed.” That’s just another way of saying “No change now, thank you.” Or, the executives might say, “That won’t work because the system is too complex.” That’s just another way of saying “Unless you can change everything to my liking, I won’t help you change anything.”

As you can see, these responses helped the executives feel as if they were being honest and responsible while they were mainly digging in their heels.

So what’s the better approach?

  1. Ask yourself: is there some good in this proposal that would benefit our mission?
  2. Ask yourself: is my learned behavior or reflexive action likely to help or hinder this change proposal?
  3. Ask yourself: is there something I could do differently to improve the likelihood of success?
  4. Do that better thing.
  5. Share your thinking with your trusted colleagues.
  6. Rinse. Repeat.

When you face change, pause for a moment to consider as objectively as possible if there is some good in that proposal. Then decide what you will do differently to enable success for that proposed change. In this way, you will be choosing positive change over blind opposition in defense of a dysfunctional status quo.

[Photo Credit: Geralt]


Industry Leaders Conversation: Change, Culture, and Learning #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description:

Former head of KM with the BBC, Semple believes in conversations and leads our panel on a far-ranging discussion of change, culture and learning as we all aspire to an outbreak of common sense on our journey for knowledge sharing and creating sustainable, high-functioning organizations and communities.


  • Euan Semple, Director, Euan Semple Ltd
  • Jean-Claude Monney, Former Chief Knowledge Officer, Microsoft, Columbia University and Digital Transformation Coach
  • Kim Glover, Global Manager of Knowledge Management, TechnipFMC
  • Nancy Dixon, Principal Researcher, Common Knowledge Associates

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2017 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Why knowledge management?
    • at Microsoft Services, Jean-Claude Monney was given responsibility to get 100% of Microsoft knowledge to 100% of Microsoft’s customers, 100% of the time.
    • Best of the knowledge = relevant (in the context of the work) and trustworthy
    • For Nancy Dixon, knowledge management helps the organization learn better and faster.
  • What is the pedigree of knowledge?
    • if the knowledge comes from a person, is that person reliable/trustworthy?
    • if the knowledge comes from a document, is the source of the document reliable?
  • Knowledge management should focus on the issues that matter.
    • Nancy Dixon worries that KM focuses too much on the tactical (how to be more efficient) but misses the issues that can really bring down the organization, such as ethical issues.
    • General Motors once had a terrific KM group. However, they were unable to help the company prevent bankruptcy. What if there were a KM group at Volkswagon that could shed light on ethical issues? Would that have prevented the emissions control disaster? Would there have been a different outcome at Wells Fargo if there were a KM-organized forum for employees to express their concerns about business practices that did not align with the company’s mission statement?
  • Conversation is Consequential. 
    • Conversation is something you enter with the realization that you might be changed.
    • Conversation in an organization creates a culture — it is important to notice what is talked about AND what is not talked about.
    • An organization that wants the benefit of consequential conversation must first create an environment of psychological safety.
  • We Make Culture.
    • Culture is not just something that is something that is done to us. We make culture by everything we do (or do not do).
    • We learn culture in the first instance from our experiences with our direct managers.
  • How to Start a KM Program.
    • If you are lucky, the CEO comes in one day and says we need a KM program.
    • More likely, find business problems that KM can help solve.
    • When you are asked to “show them the money,” don’t assume the responsibility for the numbers. Instead, partner with the business first, find out what KPIs are important to them, and then figure out the value KM adds to achieve those KPIs.
    • Before you mention KM to anyone, collect stories of instances when one unit helped another unit (and how much money was solved). Then suggest to management that you create an organizational strategy out of this collaboration.
  • What’s Next for KM?
    • Monney:
      • We are experiencing a massive change due to digital augmented knowledge. The reality of AI and augmented reality is extraordinary. The key is to use AI to improve a human’s ability to make better decisions.
      • We need to figure out to digitally transform our business — or someone else will.
      • We need to develop empathy
      • We need to harness the source of knowledge — but what if the knowledge is the heads of contractors or people who do not want to be handcuffed to the organization.
    • Glover: As technology gets better and easier to use, KM professionals can go back to being “people people” rather than reluctant technologists.
    • Dixon: There is an erosion of cognitive authority. We have stopped trusting CEOs and other people in positions of authority. KM’s role is to make things more transparent so that we can operate without omniscient authority figures.

Training Your Backwards Bicycle Brain

Thanks to the generosity of a friend on social media, a video posted on YouTube over one year ago finally caught up with me. (Or, more properly, I finally caught up with it.) And that video got me thinking hard about how difficult it can be to change the way we work.

The video in question is The Backwards Brain Bicycle and it has a simple premise. People say that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. In this video, we discover just how hard it is to unlearn how to ride a bike. By using a bike that was deliberately designed to operate in a strange way, the rider was forced to struggle between his newly acquired knowledge of the redesigned bike and his ingrained way of riding bikes. And the struggle was real.

But here’s the thing: No matter how difficult it is, we need to develop our ability to unlearn in order to develop our ability to learn. While we may not ever have to ride a backwards bicycle, there are lots of things we confront daily that require us to look at things differently or think about things differently. There were things that were standard when I first began my legal career (e.g., hard copy treatises, pocket parts, IBM Selectric typewriters, dictaphones, etc.) that are now extinct or irrelevant. As a result, I have had to unlearn my old ways so I could master new tools and techniques to get my job done.

Even if you were not practicing law in the dark ages when I first started working, I am certain you have had a similar experience of seeing old ways of doing things slip away, to be replaced by new ways that you have to learn quickly.

Margie Warrell calls this “learning agility” and says that it is now “the name of the game”:

To succeed today you must be in a constant state of adaptation – continually unlearning old ‘rules’ and relearning new ones. That requires continually questioning assumptions about how things work, challenging old paradigms, and ‘relearning’ what is now relevant in your job, your industry, your career and your life.

Learning agility is the name of the game. Where the rules are changing fast, your ability to be agile in letting go of old rules and learning new ones is increasingly important. Learning agility is the key to unlocking your change proficiency and succeeding in an uncertain, unpredictable and constantly evolving environment, both personally and professionally.

As you head out for a well-deserved long weekend, consider what you are being asked to learn and then think about what you will have to unlearn to make that learning possible. You cannot do one without the other.

If you don’t believe me, then believe Yoda:  “You must unlearn what you have learned.”



Middle-Earth Communications, Part 2

The Hobbit SecondEdIn my previous post on Middle-Earth Communication Methods, I wrote about the importance of varying the way we communicate. And, I gave some examples from Delta Airlines and Air New Zealand (official airlines of middle-earth) that illustrate how a little imagination and humor allowed them to communicate their crucial safety messages more effectively.

Michael Foster, writing on Melcrum.com, takes the importance of variety in communications even further. In his view, when communications are predictable, their intended audience simply tunes them out:

Safe equals predictable

Human beings process information every second of every day. What we do with this data varies, but in many cases we use it to make tiny, subconscious predictions about what will happen next. At its simplest, this can be illustrated by watching the flight of a thrown ball. Our brain automatically estimates the ball’s future trajectory based on its path up to that point, thus allowing us to catch it (or try to).

This process works in exactly the same way when we listen to someone speaking, with our brain constantly making and revising predictions on where the sentence, point or speech is leading. An engaging presentation tells us something we don’t know in a way in which the outcome becomes unpredictable. The result is that this forces us to pay attention. However when we hear a familiar presenter, speaking in a way we recognize about a message we have heard before, our brain quickly tells us we already know the outcome and maintaining focus becomes much harder. Most of the time this happens subconsciously, but it is a vital process for … communicators to be aware of. [emphasis added]

Predictable equals shortchanged KM

In her comment to my previous post, Vishal Agnihotri (CKO of Akerman LLP) reminded me that effective communications are a critical part of effective change management. Further, effective change management is a requirement of effective knowledge management. So if you stick to predictable messages, you will have a hard time engaging your audience sufficiently to convince them to embrace the changes embodied by your KM initiatives. At that point, it’s game over.

There is, however, an alternative path if you are willing to employ some middle-earth methods. Introduce a little humor and imagination into your communications. Feed the curiosity of your audience so that they stayed tuned to your messages.

When you find yourself stuck in a communications rut, befriend your colleagues in the marketing department of your firm. Ask them to provide some strategic and tactical advice on your own department’s communications. By this I mean more than simply asking them to design a pretty logo or slick internal newsletter. Rather, give them free rein over your text and images too. Ask them what they would recommend you do to incorporate into your communications those vital elements of surprise and delight that capture the attention of your audience. In fact, if you’re serious about sharpening up your department’s communications, see if you can bring a marketing/communications person onto each KM project team from the beginning. By involving them early, you can bake an effective communications strategy into your project plan. In this way, you give yourself a fighting chance of actually getting your message across.

And in those moments when the appeal of dull but safe corporate communications seems most enticing, gather up your courage and then  summon your inner hobbit. As Gandalf the Grey observed:

“Hobbits really are amazing creatures. You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month and yet, after a hundred years, they can still surprise you.”

May you always find good ways to surprise your colleagues.


[Photo credit: Wikipedia]



Coping with Uncertainty

Freak Out It’s been over three years since the financial crisis of 2008.  Joblessness is high, optimism low.  Just in the last four months alone, the New York area has had epic weather (Hurricane Irene, floods, the Halloween blizzard) and an earthquake. Worst of all, no one knows when the turmoil (natural or economic) will end. Is it any wonder people are stressed?

Dr. James S. Gordon, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, wrote the following sobering words in the Washington Post in 2009:

I have been practicing psychiatry for 40 years, but I’ve never seen this much stress and worry about economic well-being and the future. There is a sense that the ground is no longer solid, that a system we all thought would sustain us no longer works as we were told it would. … In this uncertain time, symptoms of chronic illnesses — hypertension, back pain, diabetes — that were controlled or dormant are erupting. Low-level depression, whose hallmarks are feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, is endemic.

Dr. Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has an equally direct summary of our current state of affairs:

We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability. And I think there’s evidence — and it’s not the only reason this evidence exists, but I think it’s a huge cause — we are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.  …  One of the things that I think we need to think about is why and how we numb. And it doesn’t just have to be addiction. The other thing we do is we make everything that’s uncertain certain. Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty.

If that’s what’s happening in the general population, what’s happening in the law firm world?  Toby Brown, a wise observer of law firms and the economy recently had an epiphany about the widespread longing for a return to simpler, more certain times:  it isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. In fact, he believes that the current “level of uncertainty may be here to stay. And it may even expand in the future. …  The bottom line is that rapid change results in uncertainty. And rapid change has become the norm.”

It’s pretty grim stuff.  So what can we do if we can’t get under it, over it or around it?  How do we get through it?  How do we cope with uncertainty? Dr. Gordon has the following recommendations for individuals:

  • Begin a meditation practice.
  • Move your body.
  • Reach out to others.
  • Find someone who will listen and help you take a realistic look at your situation.
  • Let your imagination help you find healing — and new meaning and purpose.
  • Speak and act on your own behalf.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor at Harvard Business School, suggests the following strategies to help organizations cope with uncertainty and find opportunity:

  • Provide certainty of process.
  • Tackle maintenance and repair.
  • Let ideas flow.
  • Mobilize appreciation for key constituencies.
  • Use purpose and values to “think beyond.”

For law firms that may be choking on the thought of spending money in these uncertain times, Toby Brown has the following recommendation:

In our conversation, we wondered with so much uncertainty where should a law firm invest its IT dollars? Our answer: invest in flexible infrastructure. Uncertainty drives the need to be able to adjust quickly to changing environments, driving the need to add and remove functionalities under very short turnarounds.

I’d take Toby’s advice one step further. In these uncertain times organizations should be investing to help make their people as flexible and resilient as possible.  This is what will help organizations respond quickly and appropriately to changes in the environment.  To be clear, in this context resilience does not mean simply reverting to the status quo ante.  The better definition of resilience for these purposes points to growth and progress rather than reversion:

Resilience is the ability to thrive, mature, and increase competence in the face of adverse circumstances.

While it is unlikely that 2012 will bring more certainty, let’s hope that we can bring more flexibility and resilience to 2012.  Onward and upward!

[Hat tip to Ron Donaldson for reminding me of Brené Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability.]

[Photo Credit: Frau Shizzle]




Seyfarth’s Success Story [#Ark]

If Lisa J. Damon has a bridge to sell, I’m buying it.  And, it’s not because I’m all that gullible.  However, over the course of one hour she changed me from an admitted Lean Six Sigma skeptic into a person willing to consider the possibilities of that approach for every law firm. I had previously heard several presentations on the law firm miracle that is Seyfarth Lean Six Sigma, but it was only when Ms. Damon and Seyfarth’s Chief Information Officer, David Hambourger, explained how they and their colleagues are beginning to change the way the lawyers of their firm actually practice law that I began to appreciate the scope of their accomplishment.

First a little background, Six Sigma is a business technique developed by Motorola to quickly identify and fix defects in its manufacturing processes.  Lean is a business technique derived from the Toyota Production System to redesign a manufacturing process to make it more balanced and consistent, thereby removing waste from the system.  (Another way of looking at this is to eliminate anything that does not create value for the end customer.)

At first blush, neither approach to manufacturing would have much obvious application to the work of any lawyer who considers herself or himself to be an artiste. Even in a so-called “law factory,” I’m not sure many would consider lawyers to be in the manufacturing business.   However, Seyfarth’s leadership came to the conclusion that elements of their practice needed to be handled with the same discipline Motorola and Toyota brought to manufacturing.

What drove them to this conclusion? Economics.  As their clients started requesting more alternative fee arrangements, Seyfarth’s leadership correctly concluded that the firm would take a loss unless it could find a way to reduce its own costs of production. So six years ago they began with the following goals:

  • improve predictability of fees
  • lower client costs
  • increase transparency
  • allow clients to collaborate
  • provide clients with real-time access to fees and the management of a matter

After looking at pure Six Sigma and Lean, and talking to clients who had used these approaches, Seyfarth settled on a modified Lean Six Sigma approach tailored for legal services.  To begin with, they eliminated the jargon, some of the statistical tools and the heavy-duty math. (Ms. Damon acknowledges that the focus on numbers demanded by Six Sigma would have been a major turn-off for every lawyer in the firm who went to law school just to avoid another math class.)  They also built in some strategy, project management and change management.  Along with this, they hired client-facing professional project managers and created a project management office. The other key element is a commitment to continuous, sustained improvement (kaizen) in the quality of the services they deliver.

To make these wholesale changes in the way they practiced law, the lawyers of Seyfarth also had to make wholesale changes in the way they carried out the business of law:

  • They replaced their professional development and promotion model with a more dynamic model based on advancement by competency and achievement rather than tenure.
  • They replaced their compensation model so that it rewarded results achieved rather than time spent.
    • Seyfarth has a scorecard system based on the ACC value index. They survey clients and then reflect that response in partner compensation.
  • They moved from merely automating manual processes to the creative, strategic use of knowledge, expertise and operational information.
  • They changed their service model from bill/pay as you go to one with a more strategic focus, with defined outcomes based on client business goals.

Lisa Damon is honest about the work involved in making such extensive changes within her firm.  While they don’t yet have 100% adoption, she says they make a new convert every day. Along the way, they take every opportunity to improve their practice and their business. As the inimitable Ms. Damon put it, “Seyfarth loves to process map. We create process maps for anything that moves within the firm.”  In addition, they approach this in a way that flattens the hierarchy within the firm; everyone with expertise is brought into the effort — whether they are professional project managers, paralegals, secretaries or lawyers.  In the beginning, they create their process maps with paper and pen. Later, they record their process maps using a lawyer-friendly tool called Task Map (an overlay to Visio). Once the process maps are created, they are linked to key knowledge management tools such as case analysis, checklists and samples. Better still, each process map can be tailored to the needs of individual clients or matters.

On the IT and knowledge management side, Dave Hambourger reports that they started by implementing enterprise search.  They also have built extranets that create new business for the firm.  (They are not just inert document repositories).  Another important element is the way they have deployed SharePoint to deliver “memorable value” to clients.  This includes matter management tools and financial dashboards.  The matter management tools show both the percentage of the project completed as well as the percentage of the budget spent. Since the dashboards are visible to the clients, the lawyers of the firm have had to learn the discipline of entering their time daily.

Lisa Damon will be the first to tell you that none of this has been easy or cheap.  However, the sheer joy with which she tells the Seyfarth Success Story suggests that the undertaking has been well worth the effort. At the end of the day, sustaining a success story like this requires top-level business support, careful project selection, project discipline, and a focus on continuous improvement.  Seyfarth shows that it can be done.  Is your firm willing to try?


If you’d like to learn more about SeyfarthLean, I’d encourage you to read (or listen to) the following:


Focus on the Right War Aims

Lincoln Memorial Each autumn I have the privilege of attending a day of classes at one of the best high schools in the country. Inevitably, I get to the end of the day exhausted — reminded once again that I now have only a fraction of the energy I once enjoyed as a teenager. But this post is not about the woes of aging. Nor is it about the joys of learning, although that day was a testament to the benefits of a great education. Rather, I want to share with you some things the students taught me in a fantastic discussion of the American Civil War.

In preparation for the class, the students previously read Lincoln’s second inaugural address, the Gettysburg Address, and a letter Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley (editor of The New York Tribune). Reading these texts over the shoulder of one of the students, I was struck again by the subtlety of Lincoln’s mind and the power of his rhetoric.  But, the purpose of the class was not to study rhetoric.  Rather, the students were led by a master teacher to unpack the shifts in Lincoln’s thinking and public pronouncements with respect to his war aims.

The class began with the earliest document of the three, the letter to Horace Greeley.  In it Lincoln stated that the main reason for the war was to preserve the Union in form and substance as it was before hostilities began, even if that meant tolerating slavery:  “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.”  That said, he made a clear distinction between the official war aims of his government and his personal views:  “I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.” This letter was written in August 1862.

One month later, Lincoln announced that he would emancipate all slaves in any Confederate state that did not return to Union control by the end of 1862. Suddenly slavery was front and center in official policy. What caused the shift? One of the participants in the class observed that the Union army had just won a strategic victory at the Battle of Antietam in which they stopped a Confederate incursion into Union territory.  This put an end to Confederate hopes that the English or French might join forces with the Confederacy to defeat the North. With this change in the fortunes of the secessionist South, Lincoln was emboldened to articulate a much more ambitious war aim in his Emancipation Proclamation: the abolition of slavery.

Since most of the readers of this blog are not professional historians, I’d like to step away from the Civil War and apply Lincoln’s experience to the day-to-day battles we face in the good fight for better knowledge sharing.  Many IT experts and project management professionals deplore “scope creep” in projects and, accordingly, advocate disciplined adherence to a project’s original purpose and scope. However, I’d like to suggest that it can be useful to reconsider your “war aims” during the course of a project. The purpose of this reconsideration is not to expand scope without regard for cost.  Instead, the point of the exercise is to ensure the relevance of your project by periodically evaluating the facts on the ground.  Has anything happened that makes it important that you revise your original goals? Has there been a major change in your business, your industry or in the economy generally that makes  the original goal less relevant? Or has there been a Battle of Antietam: a major advance on a critical front that makes your project more pressing or that requires that your project address a wider goal?

The key here is to understand that the situation is not static between the time the original requirements are gathered and the time the project is launched.  If you fail to consider those changes as you work, you run the risk of delivering a project that adequately addresses the concerns identified at the beginning of the project, but inadequately addresses the reality at the time of launch. This is not the best way to ensure relevance and value.

To be clear, this advice is not intended to be permission to run wild with your project.  Rather, it is a plea to stay in touch with the facts on the ground, periodically evaluate the impact on your project of changes in those conditions, and revise (as necessary) your war aims to reflect the new reality.  Otherwise you may find that you’ve won the war to preserve the Union but now must confront the evils of slavery with an exhausted army.

[Photo Credit: Russell Petcoff]