Monday, July 9, 2012

Can Legal Scrum?

Scrum is the latest “it” methodology for developers. According to Wikipedia, Scrum “is an iterative and incremental agile software development method for managing software projects and product or application development.”  It’s a form of project management adapted for short term, fast flowing and quickly changing projects.  I’ve seen its use by technologists across the board from web designers to video game designers. 

Here’s how Scrum works:  Each Scrum team is made up of a product owner (the person responsible for ensuring that the end product is actually valuable to the business), the development team (a team with cross-functional skill sets that do the actual work), and the Scrum Master (the person responsible for herding the cats and keeping everyone focused, this person also has to manage scope creep and other distractions).  The team has short (15 minute or less) meetings to discuss progress, stumbling blocks and immediate plans.  It gives the Scrum Master an opportunity to identify what needs to be done outside of the meeting to keep the project on track.  Projects don’t typically last more than a month before the product is due, so keeping on track is essential.    After it’s all said and done, a post mortem is done to review what worked, what didn’t and how the team or project can be improved upon.  It’s fast paced, very collaborative and it can be extremely effective. 

Watching one of these groups huddle in their latest scrum meeting made me wonder, could the process be applied to the legal department?  There are definitely challenges unique to the legal world – confidentiality and privilege, longer timelines in some cases, very short ones in other cases, etc.  But the fundamentals could be applied.  For example, in a small law department each business unit usually has an attorney or staff member as their primary “legal” contact.  That person would take on the role of the product owner.  The entire department can work as the development team.  In teams where each lawyer/staff member has a specific area of responsibility – contracts, IP, litigation – the cross-functional skill set to advise and assist the product owner.  Imagine the benefit of getting a litigator’s take on that indemnification clause you’re working on or a trademark paralegal’s input on that unfair competition lawsuit you’re about to file against the competitor.  Of course, legal types are talkers, so we’ll need a strong GC to keep it on track.  But the information gained in a short 15 minute daily meeting could very well help each team member have a respect for each other and collaborate in ways that add a tremendous amount of value.  It would also give the GC an opportunity to hear about any external obstacles that are impeding completion of the project and work to remove them.  After that big negotiation is done or the verdict is read, a post mortem with the team can help provide some constructive criticism on what can be done better next time as well as identify the areas that really worked here and should be adapted to other projects.

 You would have to be careful to keep privileged information out of the meetings, and adapt the agenda to meet the shorter and longer timelines appropriately.  But with very little mucking around with the methodology, in house lawyers could gain a lot from using Scrum.  And really, who doesn’t want to add the title of Scrum Master to their resume?  

No comments:

Post a Comment