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ANALYSIS: Project Management Puts MDTs on the Right Track

Aug. 25, 2021, 9:01 AM

Law firms and corporate legal departments are increasingly turning to formalized multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) to help them complete projects efficiently—and integrating project management practices could help them even more.

Results from Bloomberg Law’s 2020 and 2021 Legal Operations Surveys show a rise in the use of formalized MDTs—both for specific, individual projects and across multiple projects. In the 2021 survey, the most commonly reported focus areas of these projects are strategic planning and initiatives, process improvements, technology vetting, and marketing.

To fully capitalize on the benefits of MDTs in these situations, law firms and corporate legal departments should consider utilizing formal project management processes that help ensure strategic project alignment, efficient allocation of resources, and a proactive (versus reactive) focus on project objectives.

There are different phases of project management that an MDT should complete over the course of a project, and each of these phases may have numerous steps within them. The duration, workflow, and content of these phases may vary depending on the project. However, the following four phases of project management are always core to ensuring a project’s success: project planning, project execution, project monitoring, and project closure.

1. Plan the project.

Planning is the foundation of any successful project. But it’s also the primary obstacle for a formalized multidisciplinary team. Because the MDT hasn’t been compiled to tackle a pre-defined and specific challenge and there are likely to be a variety of differing views, this stage of a project can be time consuming and even frustrating for some participants. Therefore, it is important that an MDT allocate extra time and consideration to this phase.

During the planning phase, an MDT should generally develop the project objectives and define the project scope; build the project team; establish the project requirements; document the project deliverables; create the project documentation, including the overall project plan, schedule, communication and change management plans; and assign the project tasks and activities.

And, although the planning phase can be time-consuming at the project start, failure to effectively plan may result in a lack of direction, scheduling errors, mismanagement of resources, communication breakdowns, and an inability to achieve the project’s objectives.

2. Execute the project.

The execution phase of project management is where planning culminates into action and the project is formally launched. During this phase, an MDT should execute all project plans, activities, and tasks; implement any communication and change management plans; identify and address any feedback as well as risks and issues; and adjust project plans, schedules, and timelines, as needed. Many of these steps will be performed in tandem, and orchestrating the execution phase takes diligence to ensure that each activity seamlessly leads to the next.

While the execution phase may seem like an easily navigable part of project management, an MDT should play an active role during this phase. Executing the project plan, communication plan, change management plan, and project schedule involves high-level coordination, and it is necessary to ensure that an MDT executes the project tasks and activities in a timely manner.

If any tasks are completed too late or too early, the entire project can be impacted. Therefore, proper care and attention must go into the execution phase, particularly from MDT leadership.

3. Monitor the project.

While the execution is a critical phase in the project management process, it is not the end of a project. After the execution phase, an MDT should monitor and review the project to determine whether the project is performing at an acceptable level, on budget, and on time. Even if an MDT successfully plans and executes a project, failure to adequately monitor it could lead to unaddressed deficiencies that could potentially derail its ultimate success.

An MDT should use measures developed in the planning phase to assess the project’s success and manage ongoing challenges. Risks and issues, including those that could lead to a project’s failure, may be identified in this phase, and potential project changes or alterations may be required.

4. Close the project.

The final step in the project management process is project closure. During the closing phase, an MDT should undertake any due diligence and necessary transition activities, including the delegation of any ongoing responsibilities to ensure that the project is set up for long-term success. Closing documentation summarizing the project, lessons learned, budget details and other relevant project information should also be completed and archived. This phase allows for a clear delineation of project completion and confirmation that the project objectives have been achieved. And the lessons learned set the MDT up well for even more success in their next project!

Bloomberg Law Subscribers can find more practical guidance on Project Management on our Legal Operations, Checklist - Project Management for Legal Operations (Step-by-Step) resource. Also, see our Practical Guidance: Project Management for Legal Operations and In Focus: Legal Operations pages.

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