Feb. 6, 2019

Scrum for lawyers, or how legal business uses Agile

Agile transformation is a change in values (we wrote about those in our first post), as well as a change in processes and tools. Not all departments in a law firm will benefit from Agile, but when related departments use different methodologies, this can bring down the whole system, which is why it’s important to set up the optimal system of interaction between them.

We selected the appropriate framework between Scrum and Kanban for each ILF department. Kanban is used by financiers, system administrators and assistants, because it’s important for them to respond to inquiries as quickly as possible, and they often don’t know what requests internal clients may have at the end of the month. Scrum is for lawyers, marketers and HRs, as they need to plan several weeks ahead in a number projects, and being able to predict the results is what’s important to them.

Moreover, different law firm departments use Scrum differently. It should be noted here that our intention wasn’t to implement Scrum methods by the book, but rather to tailor its ideas and main tools to our company.

The lawyers were the last to get involved in the transformation - first it was the service and support departments that were taught new principles and management tools. Once the firm’s entire ecosystem was ready for the new way, we started training legal departments.

Freedom VS discipline

Performance issues may arise with any change. The compulsion to stick to the old ways will get stronger, since it's so convenient and familiar.

Agile can be jokingly called liquid methodologies - nothing is defined, you sort it out on the go. However, it’s not some abstract freedom as it’s often mistakenly understood. Agile is based on very high performance discipline: instead of exact plans that exist in conventional management, there is a set of approaches and good practices that you simply need to follow.

For instance, Scrum has 4 important rituals: sprint planning, daily scrum, sprint retrospective and sprint retrospective. There are 3 roles: scrum master, product owner and team member. There’s also the general backlog, sprint backlog, sprint and sprint results.

That’s how our lawyers make it work:

  • Each department has a separate backlog (list of all tasks) and a sprint (list of tasks to be performed with a specific period, usually on a per week basis). Every Monday, a department comes together and discusses the tasks for the week. These tasks are transferred from backlog to sprint.
  • The department’s sprint is managed by a partner - department head. During brief daily meetings, the team discusses the work done yesterday and that to be done today, as well as what difficulties have arisen and must be addressed and other current issues. In addition, adjustments are made to the sprint during these meetings, with new tasks set and old ones dropped.
  • In addition to the departments’ backlogs and sprints, there are certain projects with their own backlogs, but no sprint. These projects are managed under department sprints. In a project with several performers from different departments, there will be one backlog with all the tasks, but once the work on them starts, they’ll end up in different sprints. The manager of these projects ensures that the tasks get into correct department sprints and get done on time.

That is, department heads can at all times see all tasks assigned to their lawyers, discussing and managing them at daily meetings. Project managers, in their turn, can see and manage tasks assigned to all lawyers, regardless of their department.

Project participants also have a number of rituals: time tracking, creation, transfer and refinement of tasks. In practice, it soon becomes a habit that won’t be taking much time.

Agile transformation is a long process, and implementation of frameworks is just the beginning. A company needs to put a lot of effort into becoming true Agile, not letting itself slide back into formalism and return to old approaches, instead rethinking day after day what exactly Agile principles mean for the company and how they are implemented in its activities. You should keep in mind conventional change management, as well as the fact that people's behavioral competencies take the longest to change - about a year in our experience.

How to assess intermediate results of the transformation

  • Evaluate project statistics. If the number of problem projects (unprofitable projects, projects gone beyond deadlines, and projects involving other aspects that are important for your company) has decreased, it means the team has become more flexible and the system less fragile.
  • Measure employee satisfaction before and after changes. Find out whether employees find it more comfortable to work, whether the work load is evenly spread among them, and whether there are clear conditions for remuneration. Also check whether communication within the company has become more transparent: when employees know how their work affects projects, it means the transformation is going in the right direction.