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The Lean Law Firm Blog

E219: You've figured out what's wrong with your law what?

process improvement Feb 07, 2024
Team members brainstorm together on post it notes.

Welcome to the next installment of our Practice Accelerator Framework series: Improve. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. It’s a structured approach to process improvement that will help you design, execute, and implement successful improvement projects. 

Working through DMAIC starts with identifying what your client wants or needs (Define) and developing a clear picture of your baseline or current state (Measure). You need to see what you actually do. Not what you think you do, or think you should do.

As part of that picture of your current state, you’ll identify the frustrations and wastes that interfere with your ability to deliver what it is the client wants.

From there, you’ll move on to the Analyze phase: What’s causing those problems you’ve identified? Once you understand the root causes of the waste and frustration, you can move on to the Improve phase of DMAIC: How can you create a better process?

Typically, the outputs of your Improve phase will be a future state map of your process and an improvement plan. For many teams, this is the really fun part of DMAIC.

Your Tip: The Improve phase is your chance to get creative, to brainstorm, to share that truly brilliant idea you’ve been thinking about for years. However, it’s also a time when teams can get bogged down. 

As I’ve said before, the qualities that make for great lawyers also make for lousy innovators. You’ll need a skilled facilitator who can move your people away from “No, we can’t do that because…” towards the innovator’s mentality: “Yes, we can do that if…” 

Return to your charter and focus on the problem you set out to solve. Examine your current state again, and begin mapping out the ideal future state. We recommend you do this the same way you did your current state map: on paper, on a wall, with lots of stickies and markers. Keep your current state close (as you can in the photo, we like to build the future state map directly above the current state). 

Bonus tip: When you’re mapping the future state, put out fewer sheets of paper. Your future state map should be shorter. Giving people less space offers a visual cue that can really help them focus. 

Look at the wastes you identified on your current state map, and the root causes you discovered during the Analysis phase. Brainstorm. Get your team focused on what they could do: What would the process look like? What steps could they eliminate or automate? Who should do which tasks? 

What could you do in an ideal world with no constraints?

Don’t get hung up on whether a particular person or capability exists in your organization. Instead, think about the ideal: the right person with the right experience or the right software. Think of the benefits of your proposed improvement. Decide how you could build the business case for hiring that person or acquiring the right equipment or technology.

Brainstorming will generate a wealth of ideas. Not all of them will be actionable or reasonable, but don’t discard them. Store your unused ideas in a “parking lot.” What seems unrealistic or too expensive now may become realistic or affordable over time, as new technologies appear or your needs become better defined.

You’ll need to prioritize your many ideas and solutions. A PICK Chart categorizes your ideas based on ease of implementation and potential benefit. You can read about using PICK charts, here in our blog that takes you inside a legal process improvement project with us at Gimbal. 

Kano’s Model is another prioritization tool our clients find really helpful. You’ll learn more about it in an upcoming blog post, but essentially, it prioritizes client needs based on whether they are must-haves, nice-to-haves, delighters, or frustraters. Your improvements should ensure you’re giving your clients the must-haves and eliminating the frustraters. Stay tuned for more details.

Once you’ve determined which improvement opportunities you want to target, you’ll need to complete your improvement plan and present it to the project sponsors. It may be tempting to let a facilitator or manager make this presentation, but you will get far greater buy-in if team members themselves present the results of their hard work. 

Finally, remember that improvement is iterative. Many—if not most—improvements need to be tested. You will have to run pilot projects and may need to tweak your solutions once you see them in action. Don’t worry if your improvements don’t work entirely as planned right from the start. Trial and error is an important part of any culture of sustainable incremental improvement. Don’t let your team be scared off; forge on!

If you have questions about the Analyze phase or refining your improvement plan, book a free strategy session with us. Then join us for the last installment on the Practice Accelerator framework based on DMAIC, where we’ll talk about the final phase: Control. 

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