In search of buried case management treasure
The key to the elusive successful case management system is to remember it is not a project but a philosophy, advises Martyn Wells
‘My work’s far too complicated to be commoditised.’ ‘Nothing I do is ever the same.’ ‘I provide my clients with a bespoke service.’ Sound familiar?
I first heard these words from a currency trader on the floor of a foreign exchange business. I’d completely forgotten them until I heard them repeated last year in a requirements workshop for a case management exercise we were working on. It’s fair to say that the legal IT cemetery is littered with the gravestones of many a fallen case management project. Mention case management among a gathering of legal IT folks and watch their nervous glances and stiffening body language, belying their downright fear and denial.
But case management needn’t be your El Dorado if you plot a sensible course. There’s plenty of gold to be discovered if you take the right approach. It’s important to start by saying that case management is not a project. It’s a philosophy. You wouldn’t commit to a wedding date before you’d met your ideal partner, so why get hung up on absolute delivery dates before you’ve even started?
Whether your firm practises in a specific area of law or you are a full-spectrum service provider, at project initiation your scope will appear undefeatable, towering high into the stratosphere. For this reason, prioritisation at this stage is essential, so set the bar and expectations low.
Pick the easiest of business processes and leverage quick wins to create ambassadors of your philosophy in the user community across your firm. Ask them to talk about how they have benefited from the case management philosophy.
Parkinson’s law has never applied more than it does to case management. As IT geeks we all have a predisposition to create solutions of great beauty that border on perfection. You need to be aware of this unconscious propensity to over-gild every single lily in the bunch.
Case management philosophy is based on facilitation and not ownership. Use your tools and systems lightly and allow your firm to breathe; there is nothing worse than an over-engineered IT process to cripple fee-earning capacity.
Business process design should be a key part of your successful case management philosophy as this is where you collaborate with end users and stakeholders. Keep to the agenda of designing for the ‘to be’ and not building a simulacrum of ‘as is’.
Steer away from conversations that get down to very detailed requirements; capture enough to keep the work flowing without owning the process. Beware the business process design that ends up wrangled into a huge linear chain as it means you are trying too hard to own the process.
Document outputs in flowcharts for your end users so they can follow your designs and covert these into user stories for your developers to understand. Be pessimistic with your development estimates and cautious about the likely benefit levels; case management philosophy is all about under-promising and over-delivering.
Build and test your solutions with your users in incremental releases that increase functionality iteratively. Use an agile project management method and never, ever waterfall or you’ll never complete the scoping documents and quality plans. Embrace changes of scope, but only for improved benefits.
Provide time and space for your end users to test your solutions. The time and cost invested by fee earners is equally valuable to the turnover of the firm and your case management philosophy. Don’t present end users with a priority conflict or you’ll lose their engagement, resulting in negative feedback for your philosophy and its untimely demise.
Measure and track the benefits of what your solutions deliver when they are implemented. Deliver what you promise. Get viral with your communication of these results to demonstrate the value to users and the firm. Don’t be shy.
As the good news stories roll in, thrive on the gold you’ve discovered; you’re now ready to move on to those bigger challenges with a clear picture of what success looks like. By remembering that case management is not a project, you’ll avoid joining the graveyard of past project failures.
Martyn Wells is IT director at Wright Hassall