Part 3 – Planning for project success.
How best to prepare your firm, stakeholders and project teams for PMS change
The need to change the PMS system is typically driven through the IT or Finance teams. This results in the project immediately becoming a ‘technical’ one rather than a strategic one.
That may go some way to explaining something we often see, but which still comes as a surprise – the lack of involvement from the management board. Given the level of investment and risks involved in a PMS change project, the management board needs to take a strong leadership role.
Ideally before a project starts there should be board-level ownership and direction. We would recommend the board-level sponsor is not involved in the day-to-day aspects of the project. By their very nature a Director of Finance will focus on financial aspects, Director of IT on the IT; whereas the board-level sponsor needs to ensure the strategic view is understood and adhered to.
Once the board-level sponsor is in place we need to identify the wider stakeholder group. With a PMS project the stakeholder group is necessarily wide and will include the different fee earning groups as well as all the functional support areas.
There is a danger of trying to run the project via an unwieldy committee structure and that certainly needs to be avoided. It is therefore essential that as part of the planning process the stakeholders clearly understand what their involvement will be.
A RACI plan is a good tool to assist in determining and clarifying the roles: –
- Who is Responsible
- Who is Accountable
- Who is to be Consulted
- Who is to be kept Informed
Project team performance
Given that we are forming a project team from disparate areas of the business it is not unusual for the project team to have not worked together before.
Add into that the competing elements of focus – Finance, IT, Reporting, BD and Fee Earner – and it is very normal for the project team to need to transition through the standard ‘Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing’ cycle.
Typically, law firms are not very good at assisting teams through this process. But by identifying the necessary board-level involvement and key stakeholders early in the project, these stakeholders can assist with ensuring that the team is:
- provided with a common understanding of the project
- comfortable with the mandate to perform and deliver
- fully aligned on the mission goals.
As regards the latter, there have been several PMS projects where either the Head of IT or Director of Finance has been ‘problematic’, as they fear the change or there is a conflict regarding the project direction.
Initially the project leadership will need to be directive in nature and the board sponsor and stakeholders will need to undertake the role of pushing the project forward.
During the storming phase processes are defined and matured and project relationships start to be built. During this stage there tend to be pressure points between functional teams so the board-level involvement/external view is extremely useful in enabling the team through this period.
It is during the Norming phase when the project team starts to become more cohesive. Typically, this will be in the early to mid-part implementation phase.
The project leadership can take a step back as the various work streams focus on their deliverables. For example, Finance can be defining the billing process, IT can be defining infrastructure and considering the security aspects of the new solution.
In the Performing phase – typically towards the mid-way part of the implementation process – the project team will fully understand the vision with deep domain knowledge of their particular allocated work streams.
By building an efficient project team with internal leadership the firm will retain the focus and knowledge after the initial go-live – also resulting in a more efficient business services support group.
Mapping the project
In order to set the project direction, the primary stakeholders will set clear business objectives. This needs to be done prior to agreeing any plan and day-to-day project management. By approaching the project this way the project remains business focused and not technical.
The business goals should lead to a common understanding of the project by the team and are also essential in getting wider buy-in to the project from the whole firm.
Sadly, experience has shown that all too often there isn’t even a clear understanding amongst the project team, let alone the wider firm.
Only once the stakeholders are clear on the project aims should we move into the project processes and leadership definition phase and from this we move into the planning phase.
It is also essential to build some early achievable goals into the plan. It is very dispiriting for teams to have just one major ‘go-live’ objective calendared for 18 months down the line.
Preparing the firm for the project
As we said right at the beginning a PMS project will impact the whole firm – so much so that many firms use the implementation of a new PMS system as an agent of change.
The job of the board-level owner is to ensure that the firm doesn’t just see the PMS project as another IT/Finance-led initiative.
This is the opportunity for the firm to challenge the accepted norms and implement good change. Thus it is vital that the wider firm is ‘invested’, and gains the same level of understanding of the project’s aims as the project team.
Approach it as a change management project and you need to deal with the challenges of the change curve: from initial shock through to acceptance and integration.
There are a few core change principles that can be utilised to engage the firm in the journey they are about to embark upon:
Communicate the vision – Paint a clear picture of the end goal and how each person will benefit from the change.
Strike a sense of urgency – Ensure everyone is clear on why the change needs to take place, and what that need to happen now. What are the implications of not changing?
Create short-term wins – Structure the project in a way such that quick wins can be achieved
Anchor the changes in corporate culture – Through communication channels, set an example at leadership level to encourage everyone to engage with the project in a positive manner.
Focus on implementation
As we identified during the market review there are currently very few options available. It is therefore important to focus resources on implementation and benefits realisation rather than selection.
Our recommendation is to focus in quickly on your PMS strategy and select a partner of choice via a due diligence-style selection rather than a low-level functional specification ‘shoot-out’.
Use external consultants strategically
The key word here is USE – there is a huge advantage in having that wider view and experience. Just don’t let external advisors ‘use your watch to tell you the time’.
Back-fill permanent staff
Don’t expect staff to do this major project as well as their day job. (If you really have staff capable of doing such a major project as well as their day jobs you really should consider looking at your staffing structure). Identify the people who are key to make this happen and back-fill or remove workload from them.
Extract value from preferred supplier
Make the supplier work for the sale – be ready to engage beyond your salesperson. If they think they are a good fit for you and say the system will work in a certain way, then make them prove it or contract to deliver specific functionality without ridiculous costs.
Ensure they get customisation resources in place from the start of the process and get them to undertake as much non-chargeable or fixed-priced work as possible.
Invest time in preparing the team
Check that the management board are bought into their responsibility of making the project work by ensuring that time is invested in preparing and resourcing the project team. Make sure that everyone on the team has that single vision of the project.
Invest time in preparing the firm
Equally, long-term buy-in requires time to be devoted to readying the firm for change. Money is one investment, commitment is another.
Do not underestimate the amount of time it will take for the end-users to be trained on the new system.
Develop a plan that delivers initial ‘go-live’ operational training but also a long-term strategy to ensure the benefits of the system are realised.
Retain the long-term vision
The system go-live should be the start of a project. Sadly, it is often seen as the end. Ensure you have a vision that goes beyond the initial day or you will never achieve a decent ROI.
There are undoubted pitfalls in PMS selection, but this is why we have given you an approach that will hopefully avoid or mitigate most of them.
Embarking on such a project is hugely exciting and the potential for a firm to embrace change and improve service to clients is amazing.
So embrace this rare chance to change how your firm operates. Do not let that opportunity to transform slip through your fingers.