These days, clients want matters handled better, faster and cheaper, and many legal matters are now being handled as projects. So structuring and planning projects is likely to be part of your role as a legal marketer -- even if you aren’t a formal project manager with a PMP or other certification.
Therefore, you’ll want to manage your projects as efficiently and effectively as possible to maintain a smooth process and enhance client satisfaction. The first requirement is a strong methodology that may include a project charter, communication plan, project plan, RACI diagram, budget and status reports. But technology and tools that facilitate project management are also critical. And remember, since a project has a defined start and end date, these tools should be specifically for managing projects, rather than for managing your whole practice.
Here are some project management tools that will help you create and execute your projects. Some have strong law firm applications. Others are in broader use but could be customized for law firm use. There are even a few for small law firms.
- Tools and Templates from PMI. The Project Management Institute is the world leader in project management certification, offering the gold standard PMP certification. Naturally, that means they have a set of tools and templates that work for project management. For larger law firms, especially those employing or contracting with certified project managers, these tools may be the starting point. Keep in mind that they can be employed in a scaled-down manner for smaller projects or practices. (One example is Helena Lawrence’s Project Plan Template. Lawrence, the President-Elect of LMA, holds a PMP and uses the PMI methodology in a scaled-down version for most projects.)
- smartsheet. This powerful, online collaborative tool is in use by over 60,000 organizations. According to Attorney at Work, “it’s a spreadsheet on steroids . . . blinged out with project management and collaboration features—all from the comfortable confines of your neighborhood spreadsheet.” Frequently selected by law firms to manage their projects, it’s priced reasonably so it can be used for law firms of all sizes.
- Microsoft Project. This is a traditional standard in project management that many law firms use because it has a variety of robust features. From team members to executives and PMOs, this online platform incorporates everyone on the project into the process. It enables project managers to analyze resources, budgets and timelines. They can easily measure progress and “anticipate resource needs with detailed and easily customizable out-of-the box reports.” There are other features specific to team members and executives as well. This tool is ideal for large projects but may be scalable for smaller ones.
- Basecamp. Created in 2004 by 37 Signals, this platform has rapidly become the go-to standard for project managers globally. Like the other platforms, it allows you to create projects for each client and invite them to the project as a team member. You can consolidate the work product in one secure place, including client documents and other deliverables you need for each project. This technology is accessible everywhere, so the location of the staff member or client is irrelevant. It’s also simple to use so even those with little tech savvy in your firm or in your client’s location can use the platform without a long learning curve. Basecamp also provides a number of apps to expand the product’s usefulness. With a three-package pricing model and no per-user fees, it’s also cost-effective for most law firms.
- Asana. This project management platform is teamwork without the email. Because it’s free for up to 15 team members, it’s a great way to start with project management platforms if your firm is new to them. It has many of the same features as platforms requiring significant investment but without the upfront cost. Create tasks, subtasks; organize them into shared projects and related lists, meeting agendas and other initiatives. Then conduct conversations with team members who are connected to specific projects. Like Basecamp, it’s fairly simple to use so most can use this platform without complications.
Asana dashboard images from Legal Productivity.
- Trello. This tool uses boards, lists and cards to organize projects and may be the easiest to use of all of these. With vertical lists for each project (like To Do, In Progress, Deployed and Completed), the lists are composed of cards that can contain a variety of content from images to attachments. As collaborative as the other platforms, the cards, which can be reordered or dragged and dropped between lists, also are used for checklists and conversations with team members. You can create as many boards and add as many team members as you like. It’s also free to use for most people, though there are paid business and enterprise versions available.
And, don’t forget to use apps like Dropbox and Evernote for your project management and day to day operations. Scott Rubenstein, PMP, of Rubenstein Technology in New York City says his firm uses smartsheet, Trello, Dropbox and Evernote. Rubenstein also suggests Atlassian Products, , One Note, Google Apps and Microsoft Office.
As you can see, once server security and client privacy concerns are addressed, all of these apps and platforms can lead to more effective, efficient project management and daily operations for your law firm, no matter what its size.
Did we miss any? What are your favorite project management platforms and mobile apps?
By Dahna M. Chandler, Principal, Audience First Communications, Inc. for the January/February 2016 Capital Ideas Newsletter.