For the most part I believe that project management programs are overkill for a small law firm, but all the concepts are valid. I tried to implement Microsoft Project at a law firm many years ago (you had to be there for that one – hey I was still new to law firms). It took me weeks to program in all the variables (cost, links, etc.) and within a few days of turning it on, my perfect plan and all the projects went “red”. By the end of a week or so they tossed it all out. The people were not used to being tracked. They did not consider all the potential impacts to projects and they rarely planned. Trying to get a detailed strategic plan was very frustrating because they just did not seem to know what the potential impacts were. I doubt that they really knew what they wanted or why they wanted it.
My first solution was to decrease the level of detail as much as possible and only track the major milestones. This is not that easy because you actually need to understand as many impacts as possible to have a valid project end date. I have found that it is not unusual to have the end of a project look nothing like the original goal (go figure – it gives me the shivers). For these folks it is kind of like a dynamic process. So I had to compromise on that approach. What I do now days is to attempt to document as much as possible the ideas as they are developed and link them as best I can. OK, you said you wanted this but now you want this – why? Getting to the end of the project is not the primary focus for these folks (hard to believe). It turns out that thinking of all the potential impacts and planning for them is most important if you want to manage this fluid environment. So I like to develop a system that allows for clear documentation (or communications) of ideas with a focus on discussing all potential impacts. Of course I always like the idea of accountability – being an old ISO-9000 auditor. Here is another shock, they not only do not like to be held accountable but they believe that this is counterproductive.
There is no time for staff meetings to discuss issues, publish minutes, etc. We need to find a way to quickly incorporate our best guess on all the variables (technology, cost, skills, etc.). I look around and consider all this. I also look at what we already have installed. OK, we have a case management system, like most law firms. So why not use it to manage projects as well? You can record notes, task, documents, and run reports. You can track responsibilities, set up linkages between task, and quickly display status. Doesn’t cost anything since you are already using the system for cases! So what is the problem? People may be held accountable for task – so get over it. By the way, I still have my old copy of Microsoft Project and it has only been used once for a few days.