Information Governance: The Foundation of E-Discovery Projects

Sound information governance practices are easily the foundation upon which successful electronic discovery projects are built. I know this because I have lived it. Without question, projects run more smoothly when the client has strong information governance practices in place.

Records Management Reinvented

Information governance involves managing the creation, use, storage, and disposition of data, records, and information maintained by an organization. It encompasses ideas, concepts, and practices involving but not exclusively relating to electronic discovery. And it involves managing not only paper and electronic records, but all information maintained by an organization. It also implicates compliance with laws and regulations pertaining to records retention, information security, and the privacy and confidentiality of information.

Thought of another way, consider that the records or any electronically stored information may potentially be evidence in a lawsuit or investigation. Information governance, then, becomes critically important because the records of an organization provide insight into the past and sometimes future activities of that organization. The information may be needed to tell a story.

Long before we had e-discovery, we had records management. ARMA International, the largest records and information management organization in the world, has been around for 60+ years. Now we have this more holistic view of the value and the efficient, collaborative use of records and information, particularly as it relates to legal matters. Information governance is not a technology or a tool; it is not just policies and practices; or managing risks or costs; it is an enterprise-wide undertaking designed to organize information for the benefit of the organization. It’s the new records management – on steroids.

What’s a project manager to do?

Many people ask “what are the information governance responsibilities of a project manager in e-discovery?” For starters, it is essential for the PM to understand information governance, records and information management generally. A PM needs to have basic knowledge of information technology infrastructure and data management systems. And although it is ultimately the client’s responsibility to implement effective IG policies, there may be situations in which an organization does not have IG policies. A PM may need to guide the client or at least refer the client to resources that may help to structure sound IG policies.

One objective of information governance is for organizations to prepare for litigation. Being “litigation ready” means that an organization knows (or can easily determine) what information it has, where that information resides, and what needs to be done to preserve it for discovery when necessary. So, at the outset of a discovery project, the PM and attorneys should consider the client’s information governance maturity. If formal policies exist, what is the nature and substance of the policies? What is the extent of compliance with the policies? If no policies exist, how does that impact the preservation of information in discovery? Project managers need to help attorneys and their clients understand information governance and its importance to the discovery process.

Regardless of whether the client has policies in place, as a PM, it is important to understand how the client creates, stores, and disposes of ESI. It is necessary to learn the types of hardware, software, data processing and storage devices the client uses. This includes the client’s network configuration, operating systems, workstations, laptops, file and email servers, and backup systems. A data map or even a simple network diagram is helpful in learning about an organization’s systems and helps to visualize and identify the locations of the different types of electronic records maintained.

Figure 1:  Simple Network Diagram

Information Governance Server Diagram

Ask Questions (lots of them)!

Ideally, attorneys and the PM should confer with the client’s in-house counsel and IT and records personnel. A good practice is to use a questionnaire or checklist to ask about the client’s systems and identify assets that may contain potentially relevant information. Doing so not only provides a record of the conversation, but also enables attorneys to make informed decisions regarding the best course of action for preserving and later collecting the documents. A good questionnaire or checklist might make inquiry about the following:

  • Network configuration, storage, and operating systems in use
  • Types and number of file servers in use and the contents of each
  • Email applications, number of servers, mail store size and retention
  • Software applications, databases, or proprietary applications in use
  • Types of workstations and/or laptops in use
  • Remote access, home use, and personal and smartphone device polices
  • Backup systems in use; backup policies, frequency, and retention
  • Legacy or retired systems no longer in use
  • Policies on former employees, retention and disposition
  • External media, hard drives, CDs or DVDs, and flash drives
  • Internal or external websites, intranets, shared drives, and social media pages
  • Text messaging programs and unified voicemail systems

A client’s adoption of and consistent adherence to sound IG policies can demonstrate reasonable and good faith compliance with discovery obligations. If, for instance, documents or ESI are no longer available because they were disposed of pursuant to a formal policy before any obligation arose to retain them, then an organization should in theory be freed of the obligation to preserve and collect or produce that information. Defensible deletion like this will ultimately reduce the volume of ESI collected and can result in huge savings on e-discovery projects. It is not improper to dispose of ESI if there is no legal or other obligation to retain it.

Good IG policies can result in more efficient and cost-effective discovery projects. When an organization knows the information it has, where it is, and how best to preserve or collect it, the early stages of the e-discovery process will be more efficient. Likewise, an organization with sound IG practices is less likely to over-collect ESI in discovery, which further reduces cost.


The information governance stage of a discovery project—learning how a client creates, stores and manages its documents and ESI—provides the foundational underpinnings for many decisions that will be made later in the case. While the responsibilities associated with information governance rest for the most part with the client organization, it is important that the project manager and attorneys who advocate for the client know and understand the client’s IG policies and practices.

Links to additional resources on Information Governance:

Project Management: Holiday Edition

A project management christmas treeThis may come as a surprise to some, but if you think about it we apply project management to many of the things we do during the holiday season. Shopping for gifts involves initiating, planning, execution and closing. First, we consider how much money we’ve got to spend on gifts. Then we make a list (even if it’s just a mental list). During execution we run from store to store to find and buy the gifts. And finally, we close the project by wrapping them up nice and neat. Heck, we even get a little post-project review and feedback when folks open the gifts.

Decorating? Same deal. We plan where the tree will go and then systematically apply lights, garland, ornaments, etc. Dependencies are important here. You cannot, for instance, put the ornaments on and then the lights. And anyone lighting a menorah knows that there’s an order and timing to the lighting of the candles and certain rituals that take place each day.

And of course anyone who grew up in an Italian-American home like mine knows that the holidays mean massive amounts of food at various family gatherings. Well, guess what? Mothers and grandmothers all over the world are using project management to put these culinary festivities together. Consider that all sorts of planning goes into a holiday meal. Where will it be? Who’s coming? How many people? Which china to use? What will the courses be? There might even be a budget. In homes that were fortunate enough, there’s pasta, fish, meat, side dishes, salads, dessert. Fuhgetaboutit. You leave one of these meals wondering if you should visit a cardiologist or just swear off food for six months.

An Italian Christmas Dinner Table - Montreal Times

Whoever plans and then prepares the food most certainly puts a lot of thought into it. In most –I would think nearly all– families there may even be a whole team of people involved.

And then there’s execution. There’s most surely a shopping list. But think about the preparation. It might start a day or two before when vegetables are cut, things are pre-cooked or baked. And talk about dependencies. I mean, it’s necessary to prepare and cook all these things and bring the food to the table in the right order, at the right time, and at the right temperature. Meal planning and execution can be quite an undertaking if you think about it.

Uh, hello? What about quality control. Well, you can bet that all along the way that food is being tasted and snatched from serving dishes perched on the stove top while “Get out of the kitchen” is murmured with a variety of undertones by the cook.

Finally, you herd the cats into the dining room. The deliverables are on the table. Everyone eats, drinks, and is merry. You get instant feedback on this – no need for a post-project review. If yours is anything like mine, the entire family begins expressing right away how they feel about the food.

What about closing? That’s dessert.

So, as we sit down with family and friends this year, or we run from store to store, or you’re just trimming the tree, consider that it is project management –consciously or not—that on some level enables us to enjoy the holidays.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Mike Drop! logo with tagline


Who Put the “Artificial” in Artificial Intelligence

ai_1Okay, so there’s no way this does not come off as a complete rant. But bear with me; it’s just a question.

Why do we use the term artificial intelligence when referring to tools built on IBM’s Watson or other “cognitive” or machine learning technology? As far as I know, there’s nothing artificial about these tools. I mean, sure, they are artificial in that they are man-made, as opposed to a natural occurrence, but make no mistake, there’s nothing artificial about the math and science. Computing technology at its core involves ones and zeros, right? Well, maybe it’s not quite that simple, but the point is made.

Do you make artificial business decisions?

I’m no rocket scientist, but even to a person of limited legal, business, and/or technical ability it should seem odd to rely on something “artificial” to deliver sound, defensible results and outcomes that need to be, well, something more than artificial. I won’t speak for anyone else, but if I were making important legal or business decisions and the person or persons providing the technology that solves my problem told me the tool to be used was “artificial,” this quite frankly raises red flags for me.

To TAR or not to TAR

Recently, I’ve had several conversations about why the so-called TAR or predictive coding tools have not taken off in ways that many envisioned. TAR came in with a bang. Everyone rushed to check it out, and then . . . well, not much. I’d say the bottom fell out, but the truth is it never really filled the void, did it? Surveys reveal TAR-type products are employed in a very low percentage of cases. It simply has not seen broad adoption.

Well, I have a theory. And a prediction. First, TAR and predictive coding-type products did not take off because to some degree their usefulness in the legal business has been over-stated.  This does not mean they do not work. Others can debate the science of the technology. No, what is meant by usefulness is merely the frequency of application. TAR is not for every case. I guess theoretically it could be; but the point is that that is not the way it has been sold. Rather, it has been marketed as the next shiny thing to take the legal world by storm, promising to up-end the way lawyers work, and save millions of dollars and time in document review. And you know what? All of that is true –but only on a handful of cases.

Shiny objects are not sound processes

And this leads to my theory. I’m no marketing genius, but I am a pretty savvy consumer and I know that I consistently look for certain qualities when making purchasing decisions. I’m usually pretty good at looking past the marketing fluff and seeing a product for what it is. But I see a pattern in the legal technology industry. We keep coming up with the next shiny object and everyone, in what stock pickers call a “herd mentality,” migrates towards these objects, only to find out that the excitement is short-lived, that the product was not all that, or worse.

And now for the dangerous part –the prediction. It’s always dangerous to attempt to predict the future. But at this point I feel like the pattern may make it easier. Quite apart from the shiny object theory above, I predict that artificial intelligence in the legal business will underwhelm at best. I make this prediction because I’ve seen in the past –recall ECA, TAR and predictive coding—that smart, strong marketing pushed these tools to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness, but then they fade away. It’s like a new stock IPO –everyone is on-board day one, but when the novelty wears off someone is left holding the bag. Maybe this is why law firms are loathe to be first at things. But once a single high-profile firm weighs in, boy do the rest fall in line.


This is all very cynical, I know, but to paraphrase something Pete Townsend once said: “It’s not that I am more cynical; it’s just that as I get older I have more evidence to support my cynicism.” As a long-time advocate for technology in the legal industry, I really hope that I am wrong about this.

 Back to the future (reality)

Putting aside all the shiny new objects and marketing campaigns, what is clear to me overall is the legal business needs change and in lieu of change it needs sound process. Yes, disruption is sometimes good and forges change. But it’s like the definition of insanity – if you keep doing the same things, how can you expect to achieve different results? What is needed in legal technology is a fresh, new attitude. Not one driven by profits, or that is designed to meet investor targets. No, I think it has to be an attitude of complete transparency, guided by principles of solving problems first. Every bit of business sense in my soul tells me that if you do good things, good things will come to you.

And in lieu of that, I always fall back on the notion that you need good processes. No amount of software in the world –no matter how “smart” it may be– is going to help fix a flawed process.  Before buying software in an attempt to make things more efficient, make sure you first identify the process that is in need of improvement.

Communication: The Root of All E-Discovery Problems?

Throughout all of recorded human history –indeed, even before we recorded it—communication has been an issue. Early humans made carvings in cave walls to allow others to know things. I’m sure that some among them thought that such carvings were quite radical at the time. And today, many people find the current scriveners—those who incessantly post their thoughts, meals, pets, children, and activities all over the Internet—are just as radical, if not outright crazy. No judgment. In the end, it’s all communication, right? Facebook is the modern day equivalent of the cave wall. Literally.

Communication BreakdownCommunication breakdown

Communication is something we attempt, but frequently fail to achieve. It seems to me that communication is the root of many of the world’s problems. From the relationship squabble to cultural and religious disputes around the globe. If people were more open minded, less judgmental and more tolerant of change and differences, boy, would many of the world’s problems evaporate quickly. Is this going to happen any time soon? Probably not in my lifetime. But it does –and you’ll forgive the massive segue– beg the question: Is communication the root of all e-discovery problems?

A few examples come to mind.

When parties don’t cooperate in discovery, it is essentially a communication problem. If case team or stakeholder expectations are not met, that’s a communication problem. When seemingly ad-hoc decisions are made in a vacuum and projects go sideways, that’s a communication problem. If faulty instructions for completing a task are given, that too is a communication problem. There are any number of examples that may be cited and readers will know them well.

So, what should we do when we perceive that communication is the root of the problem?

A Pillar of Successful Project Management

Well, there’s a reason that Communication Management is a pillar of project management. The goal, of course, is to be proactive and consider the communication needs of a project during the planning stage. Ideally, all stakeholders –anyone who has any interest in the project—will participate in a kick-off meeting to get everyone on the same page and then schedule regular meetings or calls to report on the status of the project and any changes or anticipated issues.

But all too often, we take communication for granted, put on the back burner, or sacrifice it in the name of expediency. We assume, for instance, that stakeholders understand when we inform them that a problem was encountered while processing ESI. If the problem impacts the scope, timing or cost of a project, there’s a good chance they won’t fully understand. This can lead to a lack of confidence in a project manager and sometimes results in a complete meltdown. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Intersection of Communication, Quality and Risk Management

Part of managing communication on a project involves consideration during the planning stage of the risks to project outcomes – what could go wrong on this project? Evaluating those risks at the outset of the project and preparing a contingency plan at that time will lessen the impact of the problem. Likewise, itemizing the points at which quality checks are performed suggests that proactive thought has been given to potential problem areas and preparations have been made in the event issues arise.

Project Mansgement in Electronic DiscoveryNone of this will immediately resolve an unexpected issue that arises mid-project. Such circumstances can test a project manager’s communication skills. Successful project managers will possess –and those who don’t will need to learn to adopt—better than average communication skills.

“One of the strengths of a successful project manager is the ability to communicate clearly, succinctly, and without interference. Knowing what to say, to whom, when, and how is essential to successful communication on a project. Understanding the personalities and agendas of stakeholders and keeping in mind the culture, hierarchy, and politics of the project organization are all integral to effective communication. The communication process provides the critical links among people and information necessary for successful projects. Project managers spend a lot of time communicating with the project team, stakeholders, vendors, customers, and sponsors. Everyone involved in a project should understand how communications affect the project as a whole.” (Project Management in Electronic Discovery, p. 57)

Successful project managers in a legal setting also have people skills. They are articulate as much as they are able to listen and they persuade and make suggestions when implementing solutions. PMs display empathy, have coping skills, and great patience. They are also tactful and possess the temperament to deal with a wide array of people and personalities. The best thing a project manager can do is be honest and transparent in their communication. Nothing much more; nothing less.


One of the things that sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to communicate. The irony, I suppose, is that given this unique human ability one would think we would have it down by now. It’s a wonder why humans still mess it up so frequently. I don’t know if better communication is going to solve the world’s problems entirely. I’m an optimist and so I’d like to think it will, particularly as the world becomes more interconnected. I am, however, pretty certain that better communication can solve many of the issues that arise in e-discovery projects. Keep this in mind as you start your next project.

Selecting E-Discovery Vendors: Cost vs. Process

In many cases, preparing for an e-discovery project also means selecting e-discovery vendors. Whether you are in-house or at a law firm, you will at some point to engage a service provider or consultant to provide or supplement resources for some aspect of or even an entire project.

I had the privilege of presenting on a panel recently at the Master’s Conference in New York City, and the discussion revolved around selecting e-discovery vendors. Here’s a short digest.

First Things First . . .

The first good idea in my view is to empower project managers to handle the vendor selection and oversight process. This removes from the attorneys or the client the burden of managing e-discovery vendors. A good project manager will outline the scope of work, help prepare cost and time estimates, and oversee the work of the vendor while reporting the status to the legal team throughout the project.

But before engaging a vendor it is also prudent to consider several safeguards. First, e-discovery vendors should sign a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement before performing any services. This protects the confidentiality of client information. Second, perform a conflict check to ensure that the vendor is not currently engaged in work that is adverse to the client.

The Cost Factor . . .

Let’s get the cost factor out of the way early because the fact is that cost is rarely determines whether an e-discovery project moves forward. Costs are driven by a variety of factors, including the volume of ESI involved, the time it takes to complete a task, and the people and the tools involved in the project. Market forces and advances in technology have dramatically changed e-discovery costs. Years ago processing cost $2,500 per gigabyte. Today, processing costs are at least 90% cheaper. But keep in mind, too, that the best way to control the costs on a project is to in the first instance collect only the ESI that is needed and take steps during processing to reduce the volume of ESI.

But cost should not control the fate of a project. Each case and project turns on its own facts and while anyone involved in an e-discovery project will consider cost, at the same time they also understand that you mostly get what you pay for. Having competitive pricing models is sufficient.

In the end, stakeholders are concerned about the cost of e-discovery vendors and every effort should be made to control the costs; but there are criteria more important than cost.

Vendor Selection Criteria . . .

When engaging vendors, it is important to focus on the needs of the case and the client. We discussed some of these factors during our session at the Masters. Today, vendors need:

  • Capacity: Be staffed with a sufficient number of trained and experienced project management, technical, and support personnel and have the processes, software and infrastructure needed to support project needs;
  • Security: Have acceptable security protocols and processes in place, including safeguards to ensure not just physical security, but also the integrity and security of client’s ESI, both at rest and in transit;
  • Quality: Have standardized processes in place to check, validate and measure the quality of their services and all deliverables;
  • Service: A range of services and experiences, but not necessarily a one-stop-shop; and a consistent commitment to responsiveness, communication, change management, and problem solving;
  • Stability: Demonstrate a continuity of service and personnel and a level of financial security for the company as a whole;

These criteria are not laid out here in any particular order; nor should they be. Each should have roughly equal weight in the decision-making process. In the end, those who engage the services of vendors need to trust that the vendor is committed to each of these criteria.

Additionally, remember that sales people are not project managers. Some sales folks are talkative and at times pushy, but the fact is that most salespeople are not in the trenches doing the work and they probably should not be relied upon to discuss project specifics and deliverables. Instead, the sales representatives should hand the project off to a project manager who will manage the necessary tasks and processes to complete the project. Also, notwithstanding recent reports to the contrary, no one who values their job is making vendor selection decisions based on the number of coffees, dinners, or event tickets provided by the vendor.

Lastly, good e-discovery vendors provide a statement of work and a cost and time estimate that details the nature and scope of the work to be performed during the course of the project.


Selecting e-discovery vendors is a necessary component of projects today. It need not be an unpleasant experience. Of course, sometimes things go wrong on projects. If there were one criterion for selecting vendors, having solid processes would trump cost every time. The ability to execute, to monitor and measure, and adjust to change, fix errors, and build a solid partnership are some of the hallmarks of a quality service provider. Consider some of the guidelines above and the vendor selection process will be a little easier.

This Week on

We will be at the Ing3nious NorCal E-Discovery and Information Governance Retreat this Monday, July 18, 2016 in Half Moon Bay, CA.  Stop by to listen in on the any one of the quality panel discussions, or come by to discuss and purchase the recently released book, Project Management in Electronic Discovery. You can order your copy of the book at

Poster NorCal Event Mock Up2

There will be expert panels discussions on analytics, best practices, and ethical responsibilities in e-discovery

Project Objectives When Collecting ESI

Great project managers will tell you it’s always smart to start at the end. What does done look like? That’s the first question. Always. When faced with collecting ESI in connection with litigation, there are several project objectives to consider.

Collecting ESI is a critical task

Collecting ESI

First, though, it is important to remember that collecting ESI is a critical stage of a discovery project. Activities undertaken during collection impact every subsequent stage of the process. It is essential to perform a collection in a defensible manner. Using appropriate tools and personnel, planning the collection, and documenting the collection are some of the critical elements of a defensible collection process.

As I write in Project Management in Electronic Discovery, “during a collection project, the objectives are to perform a comprehensive—but not over-inclusive—collection of relevant materials, maintain the integrity of the ESI . . . and provide for proper documentation to maintain the chain of custody and to establish the authenticity of the documents. At the same time, the collection must not disrupt the organization’s business operations.”

Plan the collection project

The first objective is simple: Collect only the ESI that is needed. Make reasonable efforts to identify the potentially relevant ESI and keep the collection effort proportional to the needs of the case.

Planning is crucial when collecting ESI. At the outset, define the scope of the collection. Identify the custodians and data stores and narrow the collection by date range, file type, or other criteria.

I also write in the book that a “project manager is responsible for communicating with the client’s IT personnel and the individual performing the collection, and should coordinate, schedule, and monitor the actual collection process.” Obviously, project managers are well-suited to plan and coordinate collection activities, so be sure to involve them in the process.

Maintain the integrity of the collection

Next, it is important to maintain the integrity of the ESI. Collecting ESI improperly increases the likelihood for problems later in the project and there is a risk of spoliating metadata. If, for example, a case turns on whether or not a party took action or knew something on a specific date, and an electronic document that resolves the issue was collected in a way that altered or did not preserve the file or system dates, then the party advancing the argument is going to have difficulty making their point.

Additionally, in most cases it is necessary to produce metadata. Collecting ESI improperly could make it impossible to produce some metadata and it is often difficult to go back and do it again. Moreover, rework or performing a second or supplemental collection can only increase cost and expand the time to complete a project.Collecting ESI

Quality assurance and validating measures are necessary, too. Like performing a file hash analysis prior to and after collection. This ensures the integrity of the ESI by confirming that no files were altered during collection.

Document the process when collecting ESI

Third, document the entire process when collecting ESI. The documents may be important evidence in a legal proceeding and there are rules for the proper admission of evidence in court. Preparing a collection log and chain of custody documentation shows that the collection is defensible. They provide a record of the process that goes not only to the integrity of the collection itself, but also will assist in authentication and admissibility of the evidence in later proceedings.

Meeting the collection objectives

Many organizations face the initial question of whether to outsource collection processes or perform them internally. There are benefits and risks in both methods. One benefit of outsourcing is to transfer the risk associated with a technical process to trained professionals accustomed to performing such work. Few organizations are staffed with forensics experts, and few have the tools necessary to perform a proper collection. Engaging a service provider for this purpose mitigates and transfers the risk to that service provider.

In addition, it is rarely a good idea to subject individuals within a client organization to scrutiny regarding the handling of their own ESI. Individual custodians or IT professionals may not recognize the relevance of certain electronic documents. And the process of self-selecting ESI may lead to errors and/or inadvertent spoliation of data. Trained technicians, on the other hand, are accustomed to collecting ESI and can provide expert testimony if necessary. Also, they routinely prepare documentation and reports associated with collecting ESI.

That said, it does not mean that, in appropriate circumstances, a client organization may never collect their own ESI. There are relatively simple to use and affordable software tools on the market that make collecting ESI defensible. The question for the organization and perhaps their counsel is how much risk they are willing to assume in connection with the collection.

Conclusion: What does “done” look like?

Each case and collection project turns on its own unique circumstances. The collection method used should be based on the needs of the case and the client. Regardless of which collection tool is used, the objectives here provide the framework for development of a defensible collection process. That process should include planning and scoping the collection and trained personnel who use write-protecting tools and quality assurance measures. And, of course, the completion of documentation to memorialize the collection.

It is worthwhile to also consult other resources related to collecting ESI, such as the EDRM. Many white papers prepared by reputable service providers in the industry are good resources as well.

Project Management is Like Music

There are two things in life that I am passionate about — project management –the work that I do– and music. I’m a project manager at heart so you can infer that the work I do is project oriented. And when I was younger I studied and then played music for a number of years (at least until I realized I needed a job with health insurance).

I commented in a post the other day that “project management is like music –not everyone knows all the instruments or chords or the notes of a major scale, but we use it nonetheless in our everyday lives in ways we don’t even realize.” It occurred to me when I wrote this that I might be on to something and I promised to discuss further. So, here goes.

How is project management like music?

First, music has structure. Even when musicians are improvising, musical compositions have a key or chord structure within which the musicians generally play. And music notes chordsthere’s a reason for this: Dissonance. When someone plays or sings a note out of key, even the untrained ear can generally hear it. That dissonance means they are out of key. Well, structure is one of the hallmarks of project management as well. When things don’t go according to plan on a project, a project manager will face a certain dissonance or difficulty and will need to get the project back on track. Project management performed “out of tune” so to speak will lead to unnecessary problems and rework.

Embrace Change

Second, music and project management both embody change. Moving from a verse to a chorus, altering the tempo, modulating to another key – these are all changes in music. And think about how diverse music is, too, and how it has changed over the years. Project management similarly involves change. More importantly, the ability to adapt to change when obstacles, changes in scope, or other limitations arise. The ability to manage change is a critical skill in project management. It’s a learned skill.

Music can also be exciting and fulfilling. Think about the first time you went to a concert, or your anticipation as the Who or the Stones come back on stage for an encore to play your favoproject management graphicrite tune, or that solo in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. And there’s something about Coldplay’s Chris Martin jumping around on stage that is infectious. Seeing a complicated project through to its end, even when there were issues or changes, can be the most fulfilling work we do in the legal support industry.

Work Hard and Be Passionate

Lastly, music and project management share one more thing, particularly with respect to electronic discovery. To succeed in the music industry you’ve got to work hard and be passionate about your work. I suppose we could say that about any occupation, but the same is certainly true of project management in electronic discovery. It’s not always pretty and sexy; sometimes it is downright ugly. There are a lot of people who don’t “get” what we do. But to me, project management is about solving problems, and any degree of success or longevity in this business is going to require hard work, dedication, and yes, some passion for resolving technical and people problems.

Listen, I spent three and half years writing a book about project management in electronic discovery. The goal was to stay on key and provide some structure, to help the industry adapt to change, and to illustrate some of the hard work and passion that goes into successful e-discovery projects. It’s both exciting and fulfilling to bring Project Management in Electronic Discovery to the market.  So, go out and get the book—you’ll see what I mean. You can order the book here.


E-Discovery Project Management: Ask Forgiveness Not Permission

When the leadership at ACEDS asked me to coordinate a project management panel for their 2016 E-Discovery Conference, held April 19-21 at the Grand Hyatt in New York, it occurred to me that few people in the legal business discuss project management in the same sentence with electronic discovery. When the subject does arise you’ll hear phrases like Legal Project Management tossed around rather loosely, or you may hear talk of organization-wide efforts to generally make process improvements. Mostly, it’s about law firms or corporate legal departments and how they might find ways to be more efficient.

But organization-wide project management initiatives require high-level buy-in and lots of resources and coordination. I don’t believe such resources are required in project management, particularly in the context of e-discovery projects. And I don’t believe permission is needed either. Do you need approval to save money? To reduce risk? To implement, efficient, defensible processes for managing electronic discovery projects?

So, for the ACEDS panel, it made sense to focus on project management in the context of e-discovery. We began the panel discussion from these questions as our premise, with the objective of demonstrating how to improve project management processes in e-discovery.

I’ve had numerous conversations about how project management processes can be used to manage e-discovery projects. It’s a little puzzling to some at first because, after all, we have the EDRM framework, right? Doesn’t that framework provide guidance? Now we’re going to introduce project management methodologies too? People say it’s confusing. I get it –what does project management have to do with e-discovery? Instead of a single framework –the time-honored EDRM—now we have to use a second framework?

Not to worry. The project management and EDRM methodologies are easily combined into a single framework. Let’s look at how that might be accomplished.

In a typical e-discovery project, we move from left to right across the EDRM from Information Governance through Presentation.

Electronic Discovery Reference Model (E-Discovery) (EDRM)

There are likely to be iterative processes, like review and analysis. But anyone in our business knows that e-discovery projects don’t always move forward in such a linear fashion. Issues arise on a case-by-case basis that change the project scope, timing, and cost. Still, generally speaking, progress is from left to right. But what if we took away the right to left motion of the project?

Before we answer that, first let’s look at the project management lifecycle. Project management depends upon five process groups and ten knowledge areas that help to organize all projects. Like the EDRM, the PM process groups move linearly in an orderly manner from Initiating through Closing.

What if we take the basic elements of the EDRM and then insert the project management processes in a way that integrates the two into a new process framework that ensures each e-discovery phase is handled in standardized manner? What would this new Electronic Discovery Project Management model look like? Probably something like this:

E-Discovery Project Management Workflow

This new eDPM model requires thinking about each node of the EDRM as a sub-project of the larger e-discovery project. And instead of a right to left workflow, it requires that we think about the process in a down-and-over workflow. In this way, it is possible to integrate the project management process groups and all of the attendant principles and practices into the workflow.

Admittedly, this is a high-level illustration. This new eDPM model will require some elucidation, and or course some PM principles may not apply in e-discovery. But in the end this is a working methodology and it provides for a sound defensible process that recognizes the primary components of e-discovery and project management.

Some might argue that Information Governance is the foundation of an e-discovery project –how can IG be ignored? I do not disagree. We’re not ignoring IG. This eDPM model takes into account that IG involves many moving parts, policies and practices. Most corporations, law firms, and service providers have less than mature IG programs and they are not going to be prepared to undertake, least of all during the midst of an e-discovery project, the design and implementation of an IG program. The hope of course is that this will change over time, but for now it remains an unfortunate reality. So, for these reasons, it makes sense from a process perspective to start e-discovery projects with Identification and Preservation.

Similarly, with respect to the Presentation phase of the EDRM. Very few cases actually make it to trial, and anyone who has worked on a trial knows that they are a special kind of project unto themselves, very different from the more standardized processes like Collection and Processing. That said, presentation projects like trials, depositions, and hearings, are all sub-projects as well and project management may be used there as well.

The eDPM should be the model for working on e-discovery projects. This seemed to be warmly received by the audience at the ACEDS conference, which is the first venue at which the eDPM was demonstrated. It combines the time-honored workflow of the EDRM with the even more mature principles of PM to create a process framework that will lead to successful outcomes. My personal mission in the coming months will be to encourage and facilitate discussion on this topic and the use of the eDPM in the future.

Of course, you can weigh in too, right here, by clicking on the Comments section and offering your thoughts and suggestions.

Why you should read this book . . .

If the focus of your work or a goal in your career is learning the principles of project management, how they apply in a legal support setting, and how to use these principles to improve litigation support and electronic discovery deliverables in the legal industry, this book is the most comprehensive exposition on these subjects to date. Not only will it provide an understanding of the basic principles of traditional project management, this book also outlines the best practices in a relatively young industry in search of standardization. These two things make this book incredibly valuable to the novice. In addition, for the experienced practitioner and the journeymen in the industry, this book will provide a useful reference for years to come