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Effective eDiscovery Project Management Lowers Cost and Ensures Value

Who is responsible for managing an eDiscovery project?

My brother, Jason, is an experienced project manager who also happens to be building a new house. In this age of social media, I can watch the progress of his house on a private Facebook page, even though it is 2,500 miles away.

Frankly, I can’t imagine having him as a client, and I mean that in a very positive way.

Jason is the perfect storm for his general contractor. He’s a great handyman and has all the necessary skills to build his new home by himself. Also, as a project manager he’s developed many detailed plans and schedules for completing complex projects. He checks in on the progress of construction every single day and makes notes of where everything stands.

Most importantly, Jason absolutely owns the project. He is unabashed about standing up for schedule compliance, the construction budget and the quality of the work. In this “simple” residential construction project, he makes sure everything is going according to the process he defined with the general contractor before work started. His diligence has paid off.

In the typical eDiscovery project, who performs Jason’s role? Who is the all-important ED-PM (eDiscovery Project Manager) that defines where we are going, how we get there and who ensures we are happy with the results? All too often the answer is no one.

Like a new home construction project, eDiscovery requires that several different teams with completely different skills act in concert to produce a carefully defined outcome – a defensible final production. EDiscovery requires that specific materials be delivered on time and packaged in a specific way. It mandates how those materials will be gathered, reduced, transformed, QC’d and packaged for delivery to opposing counsel. EDiscovery has unforgiving deadlines, a regulatory environment with potentially ruinous sanctions, a large budget and a customer who wishes that budget were a lot smaller.

What it usually lacks, and what can make the budget far higher than it needs to be, is a good blueprint, construction plan and an experienced general contractor to make sure it comes together. The premise of this post is simple – every eDiscovery project needs an experienced ED-PM who directs the eDiscovery process and owns its success.

The eDiscovery General Contractor

We do not reflect on the intricacies of a home as a building project every day. Consider, though, how complex it really is and the number of different skills involved. You have foundation and grounds experts, framers, plumbers, electricians, roofers, finishers, painters and a myriad of others. Building a new house is essentially an ad hoc project for a single client with a unique context. Even though we all “understand” houses, anyone who has built a house knows how many things can go wrong and knows the key role the general contractor (project manager) performs to coordinate the activities of the subcontractors to maintain schedule, budget and compliance with the building code.

Of course, there is a general blueprint and high-level process for building a house. However, a project manager has to customize that general process to make sure this house is correctly built on this site with this blueprint and this construction team, on its schedule and within its budget. EDiscovery is no different and each case requires this critical “general contractor” discipline to achieve the client’s goals at a “reasonable” cost.

Okay, we get it. Legal Project Management (LPM) is not a new subject; it is a valuable new discipline to predict and reduce legal costs. We are fortunate to be part of a firm that is on the LPM cutting edge, developing new tools and methods to make legal projects predictable, cost-effective and transparent.

Due to its unique combination of legal, technical and process disciplines, eDiscovery is a challenging sub-specialty of LPM. EDiscovery requires the effective planning and management of multiple skills, tools and methods to ensure the project progresses to the desired result according to a proven process. The apparent fact that so few eDiscovery projects – even very large ones – have a qualified ED-PM to coordinate this expensive, complex and cross-functional effort illustrates how little eDiscovery management has progressed from its paper discovery origins.

On a typical eDiscovery matter, work will be required from a forensics firm to ensure the data is collected defensibly; an eDiscovery vendor to process the raw data to enable it to be culled, searched, organized, reviewed and produced; review attorneys to find the responsive, non-privileged documents to be produced; a quality control team to ensure that the right documents have been located, redacted and produced; and a trial team to use newly-created knowledge to advance the client’s goals.

Building a home requires the application of a variety of tools and skills to a particular construction context. For eDiscovery, context consists of the procedural rules, the court, the particulars of the case and the attitude of opposing counsel. EDiscovery tools and methods must be applied within that to achieve the client’s desired outcome.

Process and project management are critical in both contexts to reduce complexity and cost and enhance predictability. The client defines the end result they want. The project manager pictures that end and organizes the people, resources and cash to complete the finished product efficiently, on budget, defensibly and to the client’s satisfaction. Why do clients often feel that that they get less “home” than they pay for with eDiscovery?

One Project Manager to Rule Them All

At the risk of stretching this analogy too far, we believe the eDiscovery project manager must perform the role of an effective construction general contractor to make eDiscovery more successful. Think back to your last eDiscovery project. Who was the one deeply experienced individual responsible for the on-time, on-budget and accurate completion of the project? If there wasn’t one, what needs to change on your next litigation if you expect to get a different outcome?

The ED-PM role cannot be performed from the bottom up. Nobody would ever expect the framer, plumber or finisher to be the overall PM, and neither should one expect the collection vendor, technology vendor, staffing vendor, substantive lawyer or client to do so – much less by the court or opposing counsel. They do not have the broad project perspective and the specialized project management training, tools and experience. Most of all, they don’t have the authority and focus to direct the many work teams within eDiscovery.

As a delegate of the client and trial team, the ED-PM uses in-depth knowledge and experience to integrate the budget, staff, tools and process to deliver a defensible final production at the least cost and time. You might think that this is just another expense added to an already expensive effort. We’ve found that few eDiscovery projects require a full-time ED-PM. In fact, an experienced project manager typically decreases the number of “management” hours billed to the matter as their expertise allows them to anticipate and avoid problems that otherwise distract the trial team and waste hours.

The “one project manager to rule them all” principle is at the core of our LeanDiscovery method. LeanDiscovery is based on (1) a repeatable managed process to serve as a roadmap; (2) an experienced project manager to lead the eDiscovery teams on the journey; and (3) lean manufacturing techniques to ensure the team reaches its destination with the least effort. When all three components are present, eDiscovery can support the litigation strategy at a much lower cost. When one or more is missing, eDiscovery becomes the disruptive, expensive and “value-less” exercise that continues to frustrate so many corporate clients.

More on LeanDiscovery principles next week…