How to Improve Legal Processes: Step 4- Defining the Future State

Mind the Gap

So far within this “Legal Process Improvement – How to guide” series, we have looked at:

  1. Defining the scope and objective of the project
  2. Assessing the current state
  3. Analysing the current state

We’re now at the stage of the project, where we start to really focus on the future and the desired state of a particular process.  If stages 1 to 3 have been done in a robust and structured way, then this stage can be relatively easy.  However, this is an area that we regularly see done poorly, or in many cases, not even done at all!  As implausible as that sounds, it is not uncommon for a project team to do the hard-work of mapping the current-state and completing robust analysis to uncover the issues and causes of a problem, but take it no further.

Another common problem is that people often dive straight into this stage (skipping the first three stages).  The phrase “we already know what the answer / solution is” is a typical tell-tale sign of this issue.  It is important to reiterate that the preceding steps are critical to getting a robust process solution that gets implemented and sticks.

Mind the Gap!

This is where the hard work in stages 1 to 3 can really pay off.  Hopefully you will have a robust understanding of how the current process works and how it is performing.  If stage 1 (define scope and objective) was done particularly well, then you may also have a set of clearly defined performance targets that you want the future state process to be capable of delivering.

At this stage it is important to invest some time to really define the desired performance objectives and targets.  Even if you’ve already done your homework and have the initial targets from stage 1 you should sense check these with reference to what you have learnt about the process in stages 2 and 3 as your understanding of what is achievable may have changed.  This will give a clear picture of how much change is required i.e. the amount of change is likely to sit somewhere on a scale between just minor improvements (“tinkering”) and radical reengineering (“starting again with a blank sheet of paper”).

Before you jump straight into remapping processes, it is important to be clear about precisely what these, potentially significant, changes are expected to achieve from the outset.

Lawyers can be creative too…

There is a natural temptation to jump straight to the answer, to the future process, or to the new IT system that is expected to magically solve all current problems.  From experience this is particularly true of people that work in professional services as we are all professional problem solvers

It is important to consider the potential options for the future and, when it comes to processes, there are broadly three options to consider:

  • Do more of something; e.g. spend more time gathering evidence, or talking to clients
  • Do less of something; e.g. talk to clients less, or engage expert witnesses in fewer cases
  • Do nothing; e.g. it is important to note that doing nothing is a genuine option, but maintaining the status quo must always be a conscious decision and not the default option

There are a number of generic principles which process improvement professionals commonly use when designing a future state process (a sample [1] of which are included below):

  • Eliminate non-value adding process steps
  • Re-sequence tasks (to eliminate bottle necks)
  • Divide tasks
  • Combine tasks
  • Automate process steps
  • Reassign process steps to different process team members

The critical thing is selecting the right technique to achieve the performance objectives that (should!) have already been defined.  Ideas can come from a number of sources, both internally and externally:

Internal to the Organisation

  • Workshop/brainstorming with key individuals, both those involved with the project to date and people ‘cold’ to the project to bring a fresh perspective.
  • Process Experts; often the best ideas come from those staff closest to the work, although be wary of the potential for political agendas at play here.

External to the Organisation

  • Academic Literature; whilst it can be difficult to locate relevant academic literature, it is often the case that a similar issue is already out there and may have already been solved.  Learn from other people’s mistakes and successes.
  • Prior Experience; whilst prior experience can be a valuable source of ideas it is important that previous experience informs the potential solution to the current problem rather than defines it.  We’ve worked with numerous clients to undo the hard work of someone who has rolled out the solution they rolled out at the last place they worked because it’s not worked this time.  Similarly, where they have tried and failed before.
  • Competitors/Best Practice; similar to prior experience above, wider market trends should be used to inform the potential solution to your specific problem, but rarely implemented without careful consideration.
  • External Advisors; can be used to provide depth and/or breadth of expertise to complement the experience and skillsets of internal members of the project team.  Examples of providing depth include specialist process mapping, process improvement or project management skills.  Breadth can relate to drawing upon experience from across firms within the legal sector, as well wider experience from wider sectors that may be relevant.

The more sources and ideas your project can draw upon, the better the final recommendations should be.  It is important to distil, refine and triangulate the volume of ideas generated to develop the future state recommendations as the sheer volume of ideas generated can be initially overwhelming.

Decisions, decisions…

It is important to have a framework in place to test each option/recommendation against.   Whilst this is often specific to the project at hand, the following general criteria may help:

  • What are the expected benefits of the option?  What performance objectives will improve?
  • What are the expected costs of the option?  What performance objectives will suffer?  Will our option increase the speed of the processing time, but the monetary cost increase?  Or will quality of output decrease?
  • How difficult will this be to implement?
  • What dependencies are there?  Both to enable this option to take place and upon other options?  Does taking this option rule out, or enable, bigger changes to take place?
  • What are the risks?  This is a wider question than it might first appear.  Will your staff walk out if you implement this option?  Will your clients?

Having considered these questions to your list of options, some clear frontrunners (and non-starters) will begin to emerge.  It is important to prioritise the options as you start to redesign the process and assessing each option against a robust assessment framework (like the one above) will help you achieve this.

Summary

Hopefully it’s a little clearer how to define the future state, in summary:

  • Define the gap between the current process performance and the desired performance
  • Focus on building a high quantity of ideas from a range of sources
  • Screen those ideas against an assessment framework to develop a shortlist of high quality, robust recommendations

Don’t forget to hit “Follow” or join us on the Legal Process Improvement group on LinkedIn (at the link below) so that you don’t miss the fifth instalment in our “Legal Process Improvement – How to Guide”  next week, in which we’ll consider implementing the changes we’ve been building towards thus far.

________________________

[1] Source: Adapted from Ponsignon and Smart; 2012, University of Exeter Business School

Image Credit: Alvaro Millan; Mind the Gap

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One response to “How to Improve Legal Processes: Step 4- Defining the Future State

  1. Pingback: How to Improve Legal Processes: Step 2- Assess Current State (Legal Process Mapping) | legalprocessimprovement·

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