Above and Beyond KM

A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • The speakers in this session: (i) Sally Gonzalez, Senior Director, HBR Consulting, (ii) John Gillies, Director of Practice Support, Cassels Brock, (iii) Steve Lastres, Director of LIbrary & Knowledge Management, Debevoise & Plimpton.

    [These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association's Conference 2011.  Since I'm publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, 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.]

    NOTES:

    • Why do Firms Need a KM Strategy? Sally Gonzalez says that if you focus on tactics (every day blocking and tackling), you will make progress, but not necessarily in the right direction. A strategy document helps identify the benefits to the business, forces you to create concrete plans of action, facilitates communication with lawyers and build lawyer support for KM. One of the problems with simply limiting activity to grassroots efforts for enthusiastic lawyers is that the projects are largely dependent on the energy and commitment of those lawyers — there may be insufficient support from the firm. Further, the strategy helps identify priorities and allows you to say no to extraneous projects.
    • How to Align the KM Strategy with the Firm’s Business Strategy? An electronic poll of the attendees revealed that over half either thought their firm had no strategy or they didn’t know if there was one. Sally Gonzalez believes that every firm has a de facto strategy, but it may not be well articulated.
    • How to Develop a KM Strategy?
      Start by holding conversations within the firm regarding what KM is and should be within the firm. Understand what the business needs from the perspective of your clients and from the perspective of people within the firm. In addition, take a look at what your competitors are doing. Should any of that be adopted by your firm? To gather this information, hold some fact-finding interviews — either individual or in focus groups. Then as you gather the information, use the opportunity to socialize the information within the firm and thereby ascertain and build consensus.
    • What’s the Planning Horizon? Aim for a three-year planning horizon. (This can be tough because lawyers sometimes have trouble with “whiteboard” planning and envisioning the future.) To help lawyers focus, ask them to provide concrete details regarding what their work lives should be like over that planning horizon.
    • How to Organize and Prioritize the KM Projects?During the interviews and during KM planning, it may be possible to identify hundreds of current and potential projects. First understand what projects are tied to specific strategic goals. Write each project on a post-it note and arrange all of them on a grid where one axis is is “Value to Firm” and the other is “Ease of Implementation.” Rate each project in relation to each other project. Do this exercise with firm management, practice leaders, KM staff and other stakeholders. Once you have these arrayed, identify the quadrants: (i) field of pain = low value, hard to do — just say no (apparently 80% projects typically are here if you don’t have a strategy); (ii) field of distraction = low value, easy to do; (ii) field of gain = high value, easy to do — these are quick wins; (iv) field of dreams = high value, hard to do — you need to start these now, but understand it may take time to accomplish.
    • Roadmap to ImplementationStart with your Field of Gain projects and assign near-time deadlines to them. Then schedule your Field of Dreams projects and allocate the necessary resources to ensure these projects can be accomplished. Minimize your Field of Distraction projects and eliminate your Field of Pain projects.
    • Be Careful About TechnologyIn this process you should not spend more than 30% of your time on technology. It’s a time sink. (Tom Davenport identified this problem long ago.) Then move the conversation to strategy, policies, etc. Those are the issues that drive strategy.
    • What Costs are Involved?One of the biggest costs of strategic planning is hiring a consultant. Not every firm will have the resources or appetite to do this. While the panelists who hired consultants were happy, they acknowledged that there are resource (including via ILTA’s website) that can guide you if your firm wants to devise a strategy itself. Sally Gonzalez reminded the audience that it is important to interact with your consultant as a partner in the exercise, not a sub-contractor. If you just hire the consultant to work independently and deliver a strategy whole cloth, the resulting strategy document is likely to become a doorstop.
    • Communication is Key.Make sure your strategy planning includes a detailed communication plan. Unless you do this, you’ll constantly find yourself fending off unwanted or low value projects because people don’t know about or understand the strategy and, therefore, don’t realize they are proposing something that is not aligned with the strategy.
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  • A friend at another firm e-mailed me today thanking me for my earlier post, What’s Your KM Priority?   In her e-mail she said,

    To me KM has to be `strategic’ to avoid being depressing.

    On this gray, rainy day in New York City, I know exactly what she means.  The purpose of strategy is to ensure that your daily activity is not an exercise in futility but, rather, amounts to something meaningful.  So, how do we make our law firm knowledge management strategic?  Focus your KM activities around a central goal worth pursuing.  The catch is that your ultimate success depends on the nature of that strategic goal.  Here are some typical goals:

    1. Promoting yourself within your firm.
    2. Promoting your group or department within the firm.
    3. Promoting particular groups (other than your own) within the firm.
    4. Promoting the firm and its clients.

    As you move from stage one through to stage four you move out of short-term, limited goals to long-term goals with greater impact.  If self-promotion (or promotion of your immediate group) is your primary goal, Condolences.  Your chances of achieving something of lasting good are circumscribed.  I will admit that the pressure to focus on a stage one strategy is great given the anxieties caused by the current economic situation.  However, the fact is that the more you are able to have a direct impact on the well-being of the firm and the quality of the service it provides to its clients, the more likely you are to achieve job security and job satisfaction.

    Is your KM effort depressing or strategic?

    [Photo Credit:  Thomas Hawk]

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