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Practice Innovations - Managing in a changing legal environment
Gray Rule
March 2013 | VOLUME 14, NUMBER 2
Gray Rule
Organizational Project Management for Law Firms
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»Process Improvement and the Legal Work Product
»Rescuing Distressed Litigation With Legal Project Management
»Organizational Project Management for Law Firms
»The Intersection of Knowledge and Legal Project Management
»Have it Your Way: Unique Approaches to Law Firm Training
»Research Services Management: Strategic Sense?
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Don Philmlee, Legal Technology Consultant, Washington, D.C.
Organizational Project Management for Law Firms
Organizational project management (OPM) is the highest level of project management and provides the systematic management of projects, programs, and portfolios to achieve a firm’s strategic goals.


Who doesn't want to be successful? To have repeatable and controllable success is the promise of good project management. Such promises don't come easily though. It takes good practices and procedures that are consistently applied, measured and reviewed—this is the hallmark of mature OPM.

OPM is the desired high ground in the continuum of project management. It brings the management of the firm's project, programs, and portfolio into alignment with organizational goals and strategy. Also, an "organization" can mean the entire firm or it can apply a specific practice group, office, department, or functional group.

OPM is the highest level of project management and provides the systematic management of projects, programs, and portfolios to achieve a firm's strategic goals.

OPM is comprised of several conceptual tiers:

  1. Project Management - Formal project management is aimed at accomplishing a defined goal by managing people, time, and budgets, as well as providing effective communications, risk management, goal setting, scheduling, and management of expectations. Management of client-related projects is known as Legal Project Management (LPM).
  2. Program Management - With the right support and direction, the practice of LPM can mature to provide program management—the coordinated management of multiple strategically related projects.
  3. Portfolio Management - As the management of programs becomes mature, a larger legal organization may decide to strategically manage multiple programs of projects. This is called Portfolio Management.

What are the Benefits of OPM?

Why do it? A firm with mature OPM can expect a wide range of benefits. These can include:

  1. Strategic Alignment - Projects and programs align with the organization's strategic objectives. Projects can end up being more consistent and predictable. A successful project fulfills client and firm expectations.
  2. Specialized - Because a mature organization doesn't struggle with just making a project work, projects can grow beyond basic requirements, if needed. Firms can more comfortably become tailored and customized within practice groups, support functions, and with clients.
  3. Knowledge Management - Legal knowledge management is perhaps the most critical benefit of OPM. In a mature firm, knowledge management will be an inherent part of the project management processes. The advantages of an effective LPM knowledge management system can be a strong incentive to share knowledge.
  4. Measured - "You have to measure it in order manage it," is a modern day management axiom. Good OPM will provide the firm with a means to measure and understand the competency and performance of the attorneys and support staff doing LPM.
  5. Going Global - Client projects can be global in reach. A mature OPM approach can keep the firm's project-management competitive in an increasingly connected world.

Where Is the Yardstick for OPM Maturity?

Reaching the high plateau of OPM requires management, experience, and consistency maturity. It does not happen overnight. Project management grows and matures in an organization—it does not just erupt fully formed. As it often happens, some aspects are more maturely developed then others.

How, then, to make it grow correctly? Typically OPM maturity can be seen as a progression from standardization of processes, to measurement, to control and continuing improvement.

Measuring the maturity of LPM in your firm and understanding what has to improve can be difficult. Fortunately, there are measurement standards available. The Project Management Institute (PMI), an international organization for standards and professional project management development, has created such a measurement standard—the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3).

OPM3 provides a means for organizations to evaluate and compare their project management against a standard of best practices. The OPM3 directory of best practices is based on PMI's well-regarded standards for portfolio, program, and project management. OPM3 emphasizes the critical alignment of project, program, and portfolio results with the achievement of strategic objectives.

While OPM3 is a comprehensive and detailed standard, at its core there are three simple directives to accomplish:

  1. Knowledge - Learn and understand OPM3 best practices and project standards.
  2. Assessment - Assess a firm's existing project management capabilities, identifying areas that need improvement and making recommendations.
  3. Improvement - Create a prioritized action plan to achieve performance improvement goals—training, development, restructuring, and documentation.

Getting Started: How Mature Is Your Firm?

Every law firm is different. A successful maturity assessment with OPM3 is not the same for all firms. Any estimate of the required time and commitment will take into account the size and complexity of the firm, management support for the assessment, resources available to participate, understanding the firm's strategic objectives, and more.

The OPM3 standard only provides guidelines and best practices for excellence in project management. It is up to you to determine which improvements to make and how to make them.

The following steps are just one strategy to assess your firm. Organizations have different needs and situations. Assessments need to be flexible and tailored to your needs.

Step 1: Understand OPM and Assemble the Assessment Team - The assessment needs to be done by individuals that understand operational project management and individuals that understand your firm's practices. Assemble your team. However, before anything is undertaken, review and get familiar with the OMP3 best practices in the PMI directory. Consider how they work—or don't work—within your firm and how they can best be assessed.

Step 2: Pilot Assessment - Do the maturity assessment for your firm with your Assessment Team. Your team is already familiar with your firm and can perform a prototype assessment. The purpose of this prototype is to give the Assessment Team a trial run with the assessment. This can be done quickly and can yield good feedback and changes that will provide a good foundation for planning the assessment. This assessment will also help the project team determine which best practices may need to be targeted for a deeper assessment.

Step 3: Plan and Approval for the Assessment - Like any project, an OPM maturity assessment needs to be planned. Who will do the assessments? Who and what will need to be assessed? How long will it take? Costs? This is where the preparation in Step 1 and Step 2 pays off.

Step 4: Initial and Detailed Assessment - After the assessment plan has been approved, the assessment can proceed. This step reviews and documents what OPM best practices are (or are not) used by the firm.

  • Initial Assessment - The project team must identify which OPM3 best practices are and are not used by the firm, and make an initial determination of the firm's organizational project management maturity.
  • Detailed Assessment - The project team will gather detailed information about specific capabilities and delve more deeply into the areas defined in the initial assessment.

Step 5: Create Recommendations and a Roadmap for Improvement - After the assessment, the project team needs to document what was reviewed and how, what was found, and then make prioritized recommendations for improvement. These recommendations should outline a roadmap for improving the firm's OPM. It is also good form to provide rough cost estimates for each major recommendation.

Step 6: Repeat - Use the initial assessment as a baseline - Regularly schedule assessments -The first assessment becomes the baseline for future assessments. This baseline assessment can be used to compare and evaluate the effects of any intervening changes. Each organization must decide how often it will reassess OPM.

Making OPM3 Legal-Specific

PMI's OPM3 provides a great starting point for law firms to assess and improve the success of their service delivery. However, law firms are unique organizations and have different requirements. Legal best practices will need to be documented and incorporated into any maturity assessment done by the firm. These best practices will differ for each firm and practice. Examples include: protection of attorney-client privilege, conflict of interest review, compliance with statutes such as HIPAA, S/OX, UPL, and more. Each firm may also want to include any unique client best practices that are required for their legal professionals.


In the past few years, many law firms have embraced basic legal project management as a competitive advantage for client work. OPM3 sets an even loftier goal by helping a firm align project management with a firm's strategic objectives. In the long run, this may prove to be an even bigger competitive advantage.

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