4 Questions to Ask Before Using Agile Methodology in Legal

November 04, 2019

Contributor: Rob van der Meulen

Agile methodologies can reduce delays and improve coordination in legal work, but they wont suit every project.

Many general counsel and legal operations leaders believe that they must prepare the legal department to support rapidly changing business needs, manage cross-functional workflows and scale new-to-company legal guidance. Some legal leaders are turning to agile methodologies, imported from software development teams, to achieve these goals.

“ Ensure that projects are well-suited to agile methodologies”

“Agile project management is clearly relevant to the challenges modern legal departments face, such as becoming digital-ready,” says Abbott Martin, VP, Team Manager, Gartner. “Part of the appeal is becoming more efficient, responding to client demands and building capacity to execute department projects.”

It’s important, however, to ensure that projects are well-suited to agile methodologies when trialing them for the first time. Martin suggests that legal leaders ask themselves four questions to determine whether the work will be appropriate.

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Would this work benefit from additional client input?

The agile process incorporates the ongoing needs of the end user, which is especially beneficial when the ultimate goals and needs of the business might be unclear or flexible. The development team is able to receive consistent feedback and updates on the end goal and can make changes as the ultimate client needs become clearer.

Example: A contract template intended for use in multiple different jurisdictions requires input from stakeholders across different regions to ensure it covers all their needs. The development team should provide a few initial clauses to several business partners to seek immediate feedback on whether the terms are understandable or likely to result in pushback from another party. The members of the development team working on other sections of the template can then take this end-user feedback into account during their own drafting.

Does this project have a clear end product?

Identifying a clear scope of what needs to be produced at the outset — even if the details are determined through iteration — is essential. This enables the team to break down the end product into discrete tasks, set deadlines and identify the right sources of expertise.

Example: Creating a company policy, such as a social media policy, could be a good project for agile project management. It’s possible to identify the parties who will need to be involved in its creation, such as a privacy lawyer, employment lawyer or compliance officer. A company policy can also be broken down into components, with different experts addressing different sections of the policy at the same time.

Does this work require multiple sources of expertise?

Expertise within legal departments is often siloed by business unit or practice area, but increasingly, the silo boundaries are crossed with digital business initiatives. Agile is usually a good option for more complex projects involving multiple sources of expertise from across the legal department.

Example: A guide for managing outside counsel that is meant to be used by all lawyers in the legal department could be a good candidate for agile project management. It requires input from attorneys working with outside counsel on various types of matters. The document would need to reflect lessons learned from attorneys from different practice areas, seniority levels and, potentially, even the outside counsel perspectives.

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Can this work be broken down into manageable components?

Agile project management involves a series of short tasks called sprints, which are contained cycles to work on a specific component of a larger product. To be effective, legal departments must identify products or projects that can be broken down into these smaller, discrete tasks.

Example: A contract playbook with clauses, fallback terms and user guidance would contain multiple different components that could each be completed individually. These components could be sequenced and executed via sprints.

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