A couple of years ago, I proposed a three-stage programme designed to revive stalled strategic projects – repainting the vision, remodelling the project and changing the project team or team leader.
The remodelling (second) stage of that programme suggested that if a project has stalled or remained uncompleted, it sometimes helps to modify the initiative or make substantial changes to it – though just a change of name is not usually enough. By way of further detail and as a subset of the remodelling stage, I now suggest a four-stage process to help firm leaders to recast stalled projects in terms and with solutions that partners will find acceptable.
1. Analyse what went wrong
The first step is to work out what went wrong or why the project stalled. Typical reasons include ineffective implementation (insufficient time devoted), lack of resources (budgeting issues) or – perhaps more worryingly – obstruction or undermining by partners or groups of partners. Clearly, duplication of effort should be avoided by utilising the good work that has been done before. But fresh research, updated financial analysis and further insights into possible downsides can all help to give the project a make-over.
2. Define goals
The second step is to define or redefine the project’s measurable and reasonable goals aimed particularly at trying to cure or circumnavigate previous failures. This might mean cutting or amending the scope or cost of the project, revising the timetable and milestones, or finding extra financial or manpower resources. Large or possibly indigestible projects can sometimes be cut down into a number of smaller projects, provided both that the overall objectives are kept in mind, and that the smaller projects are not just seen as nibbling at the edges of the overall plan.
3. Change the paradigm
Partners can be resistant to repetitive attempts simply to reintroduce an uncompleted project. Objectors will feel that they will again be successful in resisting if they have previously successfully seen off the proposed change, whilst other partners may experience project fatigue. Superficial changes sometimes work but it is better to recast the project so that fresh solutions are created and the initiative appears entirely new or radically different. An alternative is to move the stalled project to another part of the firm. Legal Process Improvement (LPI) initiatives unsuccessfully attempted in one practice group could, for example, be trialled in another group.
4. Formulate and Implement
Implementation failures often form the biggest culprit at the heart of stalled projects and ineffective change initiatives. A coherent and well formulated process is clearly vital to avoid the temptation to embark on overly ambitious or wildly aspirational programmes, but even the best laid plans fail unless properly managed by leaders with the necessary skills, attitudes and determination to see the change through to a successful conclusion
The pace of change is increasing and in some cases seems overwhelming. Client pressures, technological change and the advent of new competitors threaten most law firms. The inevitability of difficult times places a premium on both coherent planning and competent leadership, qualities which law firms across the world have hitherto deployed very patchily.