It’s About Time: Read My Latest Article for SLAW

My March column for SLAW, the online Canadian Journal of law practice, is available, called The Third Tool: The Off Switch.1

It’s a brief intro to one of the time-saving techniques that I recommend. Legal Project Management Field Guide goes into more detail on this third tool, and The Off Switch not only goes much deeper, but covers a dozen other tips and techniques to make your days significantly more productive.

So hop on over to SLAW and read an intro to the third tool… and begin saving time.

Minor Updates to This Site

We’ve just moved to a new server. I mention this only because there may be a few glitches. For example, I’ve spotted a few stray characters that have somehow crept into some articles2.

That aside, articles have been few the past three months because I’ve been working on another book. That’s drawing to a close, so I’ll be able to channel my writing energies back toward this forum a bit more.

What “Deflategate” Means for Legal Project Managers

If you’ve been following the story about the underinflated footballs used when the Patriots beat the Colts last weekend, have you thought about the lessons in leadership the story offers?

To summarize the story, someone on the Patriots team or staff (not the cold air) let some air out of the Patriots’ footballs between the time they were inspected and the start of the game.

  • Each team uses its own footballs. In other words, the Colts didn’t have the same advantage.
  • A slightly deflated football is much easier to throw.
  • Quarterbacks can easily feel the difference, as can receivers – and defensive backs when they intercept one, which is how the deception came to light.
  • It didn’t make any difference to the outcome of this particular game. As one of the losing team’s players said, Brady, the Patriots’ quarterback, could have been throwing bars of soap and they’d still have won.

The normal term for this behavior is cheating.

And it’s inconceivable to me, based on what I’ve read, seen, and tested by playing catch with my son, that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn’t know. I’m not saying he did the deflation, or ordered it. But I don’t see how he didn’t know he had underinflated balls. Any artisan – and Brady is about the best in his particular line of work – understands even the smallest alterations in his or her tools.

Lesson 1: Cheating Is Cheating, Even if It Makes No Difference

It is unlikely the balls affected the outcome of the game.3 Nevertheless, if behavior outside the rules occurred, trust was damaged between provider and client.

In this case, the provider is both the NFL and the Patriots. And we, those of us who watch football, whether casually or obsessively, are the client.

If you do something on a project that has the potential to shortchange the client, aren’t you responsible? Even if the outcome never happens, you still risked the client’s trust – and broke the responsibility the client and society placed in you.

Lesson 2: The Buck Stops… Where?

So far, neither the ultra-controlling coach nor the quarterback have stepped up to take responsibility. I think for now that this behavior gets a pass because of the circumstances. With the ultimate game coming up, the Super Bowl, no one – the fans, the league, not even their opponent – wants to see the Patriots at less than their best, and an admission in the next nine days would mean one or both of these people would likely be barred from participating.

But…. By Tuesday after the game, I hope that both the coach and the quarterback will demonstrate the required leadership:

Coach: It’s my responsibility. The buck stops here. I don’t know who stuck the needles into the valves, but it doesn’t matter. It happened on my watch. I’ll accept whatever punishment the league thinks is appropriate.

Quarterback: I knew (or should have known) that the balls were underinflated and not legal for play. I didn’t self-report the problem. That was a mistake. I’ll accept whatever punishment the league thinks is appropriate. And if he knew about the act of deflating them, rather than just the result, he should own up to that as well.

Finally, we have yet to hear from the owner, generally considered one of the good guys in the sport. Here’s what I’d like to hear:

Owner: This is not the way we want to win. This is a game, not a fight for our lives. I’m therefore suspending both the coach and the quarterback immediately for some number of games next season – real games, not the preseason.

If your team screws up – not makes mistakes, but does something that they know or should know is wrong, – you as a leader must take the responsibility. In this case, even if Brady had absolutely nothing to do with deflating the balls, by the second or third time he handled a ball – and the balls were swapped out every play to keep them relatively dry in the wet, cold conditions – he had to have known that he was throwing footballs that fell outside the rules. At that point, it become a leader’s responsibility to address the problem.

Lesson 3: Rules Matter

Legal projects exist within a societal structure. It’s not all-out war, no matter what metaphors we use. Our first responsibility is not to our clients but to the societal precepts that allow us to work within the rule of law. If we cheat in some way, we not only do a potential disservice to our clients, we damage the profession.

Happy New Year, and New SLAW Article

Welcome to 2015.4

My bimonthly column in the Canadian law journal SLAW is available. It describes a critical tool for managing client satisfaction and retention, the Conditions of Satisfaction.

Too many project managers are willing to leave client issues to the client contact. The “rainmaker” who “owns” the client, in the parlance of some firms, may have the final call on certain issues, but the surest way to either strengthen or damage a client relationship is via what happens on a project – which is your project-management responsibility.

The SLAW article is considerably longer that most such articles, but if I’d broken the Conditions of Satisfaction up into its five component parts and treated one part per article, the end of summer would have been upon us before I’d finished. While now, in midwinter, summer is an appealing thought, waiting seven months to finish discussing this “tool” didn’t work.5

There’s more where that came from. The Five Tools are the subject of my most recent book, Legal Project Management Field Guide. Get a copy. Today. (Please. I said it. Please. And thank you, in advance.)

Should Lawyers Measure Outcomes? (Well, Doctors Are Starting to Do It)

I came across a fascinating article this morning describing the way that surgeons are starting to measure their results.

I throw this out as a thought experiment:

  • Should lawyers do something similar?
  • Would you prefer to go to a surgeon whose measurable results were in the top quartile?

Let’s assume it’s possible to do something similar with attorneys. (Of course it’s hard. Cases are different. So are clients. But then again, so are people and medical conditions… and this group is making sense of it all. Read the article to see how they’re doing it.)

One of the big surprises in the article: Rating video of surgical procedures correlated very well with outcomes. In other words, who worked cleanly, with little wasted motion? Those surgeons had the best results.

Which sounds like Legal Project Management. (Just saying, as my kids would put it.)

Clearly, this wouldn’t be easy. It would be controversial. I bet it would also be supported by clients… and by those attorneys who are the best at what they do.

One more result from the studies: The surgeons who didn’t do as well had extra incentive to improve. In other words, the act of measuring outcomes brought about better outcomes overall.

Here are a couple of interesting passages:

It took many conversations, and assurances, to convince them that the data were being collected for their benefit?—?not to “name and shame” bad performers.

“When you set a standard,” [a surgeon in the study] says, “the majority of people will improve or meet that standard. You tend to shrink the outliers. If I’m an outlier, if my performance leaves something to be desired, then I can go to my colleagues and say what is it that you’re doing to get these results?” [He] sees this as the gradual standardization of surgery: you find the best performers, figure out what makes them good, and spread the word. He said that already within his group, because the conversations are more tied to outcomes, they’re talking about technique in a more objective way.

Tribute to Retiring Judge John M. Facciola

US Magistrate John Facciola has written and spoken eloquently and plainly about e-discovery, among other matters, and has always been one of the most fascinating panelists at any legal trade show. He’s retiring from the bench. In an online tribute/webinar, he’ll be joined by Craig Ball, Chris Dale, and Mary Mack, who are themselves interesting speakers.

It’s December 3rd, 1PM (EST) for an hour, presented by Zylab and ACEDS. (I have a minor connection with the latter, having keynoted one of their conferences and later doing some work with one of their partner companies.) Details are here.

If you have even a passing interest in e-discovery – or an interest in judging itself – it’s likely to be a worthwhile hour.

(Speaking of judging, I’m in the middle of Judge Posner’s recent book, Reflections on Judging – which is grabbing more of my time than I’d expected.)

When It All Goes Wrong

Most projects aren’t life-or-death situations, even though they feel like it when you’re under project pressure.

Here’s an interesting story of a real life-or-death situation that has lots of lessons for project managers. (Yes, everyone survived. I’ve sailed the waters in question often – they’re less than ten miles from our vacation home – and the situation easily could have turned fatal – frigid water, powerful, swirling currents running at five miles/hour, rocky shore, water that drops steeply to over 100 feet deep.)

You can skip the specific stuff about what went wrong in the boat. It doesn’t matter. They couldn’t steer using the rudder (which makes the boat turn, controlled by the steering wheel), and the engine wouldn’t turn the propeller. They found a way to mis-set the sails in a specific way that forced the boat to limp forward slowly despite the rudder trying to turn the boat in circles.

But read on to see two things:

  • The writer’s calm demeanor under pressure, and how it affected both his ability to reason and his team’s (his wife) trust in his ability to lead.
  • His project debrief, a/k/a after-action review, what he could have done better, and what he did well.

Most project aren’t life-and-death, but they matter deeply – to you, to the team, to the client. Learn from this near-fatal failure.

The Elements of the Project Charter: SLAW Article

My bimonthly article is out in SLAW, the Canadian online legal magazine. It discusses the elements of the project charter.

Lying With Metrics

I’ve written repeatedly about how easy it is to lie with metrics. Sometimes it’s unintentional. Mostly, I fear, it isn’t.

Consider this survey I received today from an airline for recent travel to a client site – or, rather, two versions of this survey:

Version 1:

Delta Survey 2

Version 2:

Delta Survey 1

Question 1

Which one do you think will result in higher satisfaction scores?

According to research, Version 2, by a considerable amount.

Question 2

If I wanted to show that satisfaction was increasing over time, how could I do that without changing inflight service whatsoever?

Present Version 1 one month, then Version 2 the next. Voila, scores increase dramatically. Or present Version 1 to customers the first few times they fly, then move them to Version 2.

It certainly would be a lot easier than giving customers more legroom.

Now as it happens, I’m relatively satisfied with this airline, and the flight was easy enough. (It didn’t hurt that they moved me up to the front of the bus, either.) And I’m not saying they’re consciously manipulating the layout of the survey… though I also have trouble imagining that they highly paid people putting together these surveys don’t understand the effect of right-to-left or left-to-right ordering of their choices.

Question 3

What’s the right way to do this?

Ah. Interesting question.

Depends on what you’re after. If you absolutely must have a numerical answer – e.g., because the CEO is insisting – then the right way is to use one format, don’t alter the questions, and measure significant changes over time (longitudinal surveying). Chances are, though, if someone is insisting on a numerical answer, either they’re playing games themselves, or they’re too arrogant to listen to your explanations, or you’re too afraid to offer them.

You’ll get a better result by sitting down with a cross-section of the user population and talking honestly with them, asking them about their issues and not trying to confine them to one-dimensional check-the-box answers.

That takes work, though. And offers ambiguous results. And quite often gives you unpleasant feedback – though absent such feedback, you’ll have a hard time figuring out what you can do better.

I’ve had this conversation over the years with various clients who want me to survey their population (of lawyers, etc.). Sometimes they’re genuinely interested in answers, in doing better, which makes for a fun project. And sometimes they just need a number to show their boss… which certainly makes for an easier project.

Five Tools for Busy Professionals

My new book is available on Amazon: Legal Project Management Field Guide: Five Tools for Busy Professionals.

Five Tools CoverYou can read it independently or as a supplement to the original Legal Project Management.

It contains some of the same material as that book, though completely rewritten to focus on the particular tools I discuss, along with considerable new material. For example, I wish I’d given more attention to project charters in the first book. I rectify that here.

As a legal professional, you can manage five aspects of your project – that is, the “stuff” besides the legal work itself:

– The project itself
– Time
– Money
– The team
– The client

The new book details a “tool” (not a technology tool, but a means for making the job easier) for each of these aspects:

– The project charter
– The “Off Switch”
– Budgets
– Giving an assignment effectively
– The Conditions of Satisfaction

Of course, I’m biased, but I think it’s a great new approach to making project management accessible and easy to jump into. There’s a lot more to project management than these five tools, material that I cover in my extended classes and seminars and in the book Legal Project Management. However, these tools provide a significant first step. Employ them, and your projects will leap ahead.

And your stress level will decrease.

One last thing – it’s on sale! No, not just “for sale,” but Amazon is discounting both this book and the first one by 10%, at least in the U.S. I don’t know how long the sale will last,6 so take advantage now. Yeah, you’re only saving about the cost of a latte,7 but consider it the start of much larger savings when you start managing your projects more effectively.

So order it today.8 And when it comes in a few days, take it down to the coffee shop across the street, use the $3 on a latte, and start reading. Get the latte extra hot, and by the time you’ve finished it, you’ll be on your way to better project management. Really.


  1. Funny, The Off Switch is also the name of my second book. Coincidence? You’ll have to pick up the book to find out.

  2. Not in any systematic way that I can see. Gremlins. Has to be gremlins. And I’m low on anti-gremlin fluid right now, meaning I’ll have to eradicate these stray characters as I find them.

  3. It’s possible, because the Patriots early success throwing the ball may have changed the way the game was played, but the Patriots were better in pretty much every aspect of the game, not just passing.

  4. I still have trouble accepting that the year 20xx is a thing. The twenty-first century seemed unimaginably distant when I was a kid.

  5. It’s mid-50s in Seattle, not bad for winter, but I’m heading for New York tomorrow morning, where it’s supposed to drop into single digits – reminding me of one reason I left in the first place.

  6. Amazon is doing it, not me.

  7. The universal comparator in Seattle.

  8. Please. So I can feed my kids. Okay, I’m only kidding about that part, but do order it soon.