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,1 so take advantage now. Yeah, you’re only saving about the cost of a latte,2 but consider it the start of much larger savings when you start managing your projects more effectively.

So order it today.3 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.


My New Book Is Available (Almost)

Finally, after three months of production problems, my new book is starting to roll off the presses.

Legal Project Management Field Guide: Five Tools for Busy Professionals will be available on Amazon in about three or four days and at other bookstores shortly afterwards.

I’ll share more about the book as soon as I have confirmation it’s available for sale. I think it’s pretty cool and seriously useful… but I might be just a bit biased.

cover_2b smaller

OT: Server Issues

My web server was having some issues. The hosting company is working on them, but there may be intermittent problems with the Lexician site and our email addresses for a few days. Apologies in advance….

New and Cool to You? Doesn’t Matter (to Your Clients)

I just received a breathless mass email that states:

The all-new website is here! Take a look. Check it out…, and it’s all new! Visit today to [get info and find stuff]. Take this quick tour to get an overview of what’s new [in four bullet points4 and happy sentences]….

Of course it includes links, a colored background, and a stock photo of two happy people and what might be a tree.

I. Don’t. Care. I am a client of the company that sent this, but I don’t care about their website.5

Dear sender, I know it’s something you’ve worked hard on. Very hard. Balancing a lot of internal politics, competing needs, and limited resources. Yup.

So what?

Why does it matter to me?

I assume, if I go to your website, that I’ll be able to do exactly the things those four bullet points tell me I can do. Because any reasonably competent website for your industry will let me do those things. And your old website was not so bad that it was driving away all your clients and you now need to win them back.

Oh, and this was the second such mail. You sent me one a few days ago to tell me to look out for this mail!

The Project Management Connection

When you’re managing a legal project, understand what your clients care about.

You may (and should) care about things like deadlines and staffing and the incredibly hard work and grace under pressure your team has contributed. But before you share that with the client,6 ask yourself, Is this on the client’s top-three list regarding this project?

Sometimes it is. If your client doubts you can deliver, or is curious about (or wants proof of) your project management skills, or insists on knowing everything about everything, then fine – share the info.

Otherwise, figure out what the client thinks is important, and focus your communication efforts on that.

Don’t assume that what matters to you matters to the client. It’s like the old saw about people not wanting to watch the making of either sausages or laws.

Become a Five-Tools Project Manager

My bimonthly article on Slaw, the Canadian law magazine, talks about how to build on five key tools for project success.

Now if I could only find the one tool that would resolve printing issues with my new book so I could release it….

  1. Amazon is doing it, not me.

  2. The universal comparator in Seattle.

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

  4. One of which has an editing error.

  5. Actually, I might personally care a little bit in a professional sense, since I was responsible for a good chunk of for a year, but I’m simply stating that in the interest of full disclosure.

  6. Or even, to some extent, with your own management.