Disclaimer: given below is the first installment in a series of articles on the implementation of Agile approaches in a law firm. The causes, effects, pros and cons and even the very definition of Agile used in this company may differ from yours. This is normal.
a) frequent changes of instructions resulting in rush jobs;
b) too much internal bureaucracy;
c) declining profitability of projects.
At first, we thought to solve all our problems with new tools. We decided that a modern and fully functional CRM and task management system in place of the old program we had been using for time tracking would rectify the situation.
To select such a system out of those on the market, we began interviewing employees of all departments and positions, in order to better understand their needs and difficulties, and to find a product that would best suit our company.
It soon became clear that an outdated billing program is not the only thing hindering effective project management.
At that moment we stopped looking for the best tool and started our quest for a new philosophy. Thus began ILF’s Agile transformation.
Legal projects and Agile
A conventional law firm will probably wonder whether it’s worth diving headlong into Agile processes? Why should you be tempering with your tested management model?
In our experience, it’s a question of when, not why. If a company works conventionally for a long time and at some point it becomes clear that projects lack certainty at launch, or an understanding of what the results will be and what issues may arise during implementation, Agile can be of great help with project management.
For instance, it’s often the case in legal projects that for various reasons the client does not provide complete information, or simply does not have enough information at project launch. As a result, the client is unable to set clear objectives or anticipate what you may require, which makes a painstakingly planned course of action fall apart mere two weeks into the project. This greatly complicates things for the team.
There is a lot of uncertainty in legal projects, and Agile is designed to handle exactly that.
How Agile differs from conventional management models
The goal of the Agile project is to meet the client's needs. Those can change in the process, and by the end of the project may be very different from those you’d been given at the start. Using conventional management methods, we might have problems understanding what exactly the client needs. We have to rely on the initial instructions in our planning and work, and if something gets changed, you have neither the tools nor the time to react to the changes, while Agile makes you able to handle surprises quickly and efficiently.
If you use a classic approach to plan the entire project from start to finish, you need a large amount of certainty. However, with legal projects, we don’t normally know what problems we would encounter along the road. In Agile, the main thing is to understand is what the client wants and how to make it happen.
Key principles of Agile at ILF:
1. People and interactions are more important than processes and tools.
2. Quality service is more important than comprehensive documentation.
3. Cooperation with the client is more important than agreeing on the terms of the contract.
4. Being ready for changes is more important than following the original plan.
Note that “more important” does not mean that one thing is important and the other is not. However, if the two concepts are mutually exclusive, you should pick the first one.
Why Agile is good for employees
In Agile, people and interactions are more important than processes and tools, which means that the whole process is made to be comfortable for employees. Planning in very short intervals allows not overloading them. For example, when you plan long-term using the conventional approach, the team has to rush things. With Agile, you can regulate the workload for each member of the team.
The absence of excessive bureaucracy and rigid hierarchy in Agile creates a more friendly work climate. Agile prioritizes teamwork in a comfortable environment. The Agile methodology is impossible without teamwork.
Agile works if a company has a simple and open communication system where any employee can approach management at all levels directly and values are transmitted from the upper level to the lowest.
With Agile’s implementation, we have noticed that business started responding to market changes faster and adopting more adaptive solutions, to be better equipped to satisfy the clients’ needs.
The company’s Agile transformation has been going on for almost a year and many tools and techniques are yet to be implemented.