If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, then you don’t know what you’re doing. – W. Edward Deming
In a highly insightful and thought-provoking blog post, Bonnie Cheuk – Director of Knowledge Sharing & Collaboration at Citi – asks: what is the future of information professionals? In her explanation, she says:
Personally, I think the major shift is not about technology, it is how we redefine information from “static, objective” information that we can manage as objects to “communicative” information whereby information is a “process of becoming.”
This “process of becoming” is the process to inform, to understand, to share common struggles, to look for facts and multiple perspectives. Ms. Cheuk describes the shift from static information to communicative information as “fundamental,” requiring rethinking the role of information professionals in creating value.
The key term here is “process”: streamlining a set of functions to become a process increases the level of communication, collaboration, and efficiency in most any environment. Ms. Cheuck suggests that knowledge workers and information managers begin to “champion a new way of working” in order to enable their workforces to connect and share information in a process that will drive revenue growth. The law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP – and a number of other law firms — have been doing just that.
This year’s Knowledge Management Ark Group conference featured case study sessions in which firms presented on their successes in new knowledge management initiatives. Kim Craig (Director of Project Management Office) and Andrew Baker (Director of Legal Technology Innovations) of Seyfarth Shaw LLP presented “Process Improvement as a Springboard to Innovation,” explaining the importance of treating the law practice as the process that it is. Their case study centered on the firm’s client service model SeyfarthLean and how is leveraging client relationships to partner on process improvement initiatives – determining and capturing best practices, driving efficiency, consistency, transparency and predictability in spend.
The evolution of SeyfarthLean began in 2006 with a massive initiative to map over 200 legal processes, creating maps for workflows. Next, was an effort to transform the project management office into a client-facing Legal Project Management Office (LPMO), home to fourteen billable, client-facing, full-time project management professionals whose role was to assist attorneys on legal service delivery and further drive efficiency by facilitating process mapping and preparing project management collateral. In 2010, the consulting arm of SeyfarthLean was formed (SeyfarthLean Client Solutions Group) and in 2011 Seyfarth Shaw incorporated the mapped workflows. Soon after, the firm created a Legal Technology Innovations Office (LTIO) which served to enable innovative practice approaches through applied technology and knowledge innovations. LTIO focuses on enhancing the client experience, aiming to ensure that clients feel it easier to do business with Seyfarth and harder to go elsewhere for services.
The conjoined efforts of LTIO and LPMO seek to ensure continuous improvement, looking for patterns in engagement needs and overlap in client requests.
Ms. Cheuck suggests, in her blog post, that to move towards the future and to champion the positive elements of the changing information landscape, information and knowledge managers should:
Offer new perspectives and practical solutions to enable and facilitate knowledge sharing in the organization… It requires [information and knowledge managers] to play a role in shaping a company’s strategic IT roadmap, business model, communication practices, innovation and more.
Seyfarth Shaw done just that – finding great success in using process improvement as a springboard to innovation by converging the disciplines of project management and technology innovations. Strengthening and streamlining legal functions as a process has created a consistent, efficient, and transparent model that harnesses the knowledge of attorneys, project managers, and technology experts. The move towards workflow-oriented legal project management is an element of the “enormous transformation” Ms. Cheuk sees in the information and knowledge management landscape. The sooner law firms begin to restructure their legal functions and client relationship models, the better they will be able to ride this wave of change and transformation. Now, more than ever, the words of statistician W. Edward Deming ring true:
If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, then you don’t know what you’re doing.