In our previous installment, we spoke about the evolution of the knowledge worker as a key part of the changing e-discovery landscape. Building a sophisticated team to work with technology-enhanced review tools, manage complex automated collection tools and act as special operations consultants to outside counsel defines one aspect of the today’s e-discovery knowledge worker movement. Another facet of the knowledge worker profile focuses on the project managers and consultants who can draw from universally accepted processes that create document workflow and planning.
Defensibility is one of the de jure words in e-discovery today. Defensibility does not equal perfection in the discovery compliance world. It means that parties must have a reasonable process for collecting, reviewing and producing documents. Reasonable simply means repeatable with comparable results.
The manufacturing world has long embraced the concept of repeatable performance. Companies such as Toyota Motor Corp., General Electric Co. and Motorola continuously strive to improve processes in an effort to limit the number of manufacturing defects. That implementation of a process of continual improvement and consistency helped to popularize the Six Sigma movement. Some have tried to implement similar efforts in the e-discovery space with limited results.
There is a debate that seems to have taken shape in the e-discovery world around the concept of certification. Several groups have attempted to commercialize the concept of certification, and there are both supporters and detractors of the value of e-discovery certification. We will not discuss the time-consuming and complex issue today. Our focus is on the value that proven business disciplines bring to the e-discovery life cycle.
A central figure in the knowledge worker movement is the project manager, but in the e-discovery space, the concept of project management is far from standardized, and the level of service provided varies greatly from solution provider to solution provider. Some project managers serve as integral pieces of the case team with substantive involvement throughout the e-discovery process, and others simply sit in with the review team as it codes and handles administrative duties. By contrast, manufacturing, construction, defense contracting and many other industries operate under a standardized project management discipline, a proven methodology that drives repeatable and comparable results.
True project management is a methodical approach to planning and guiding project processes from start to finish. According to the Project Management Institute, the processes are guided through five stages: initiation, planning, executing, controlling and closing. Project management can be applied to almost any type of project. Successful e-discovery is about a methodical approach to the processes of acquiring and culling data, reviewing it and producing it. The documentation that goes with professional project management is an essential element to showing defensibility and reasonableness. Collecting from multiple data sources, documenting the actions taken and establishing the criteria for volume reduction should occur as a byproduct of a disciplined plan. Creating a fully optimized review database that streamlines document review and quality control is a project management function. Finally, ensuring that that process meets the agreed-upon confidence intervals is both a technology and a project management function. Someone has to own the quality of document review in the same way someone owns the defect rate in manufacturing.
Testing project managers’ knowledge of e-discovery is different than offering tools and training to manage and document projects more rigorously. In our industry a lot of project managers can be classified as accidental project managers. They often are capable contract attorneys or litigation support professionals who began managing e-discovery projects either out of necessity or through “battlefield promotions.” Their core competencies are valuable parts of the process, but those core competencies are not where it ends. Putting all of your e-discovery project managers through the rigor and discipline of project management professional certification programs arms them with more tools to proactively manage projects for optimal results. We have embarked on such a program to better train our projects managers and to provide them with genuine credentials that show they bring a disciplined method of thinking and implementing proven processes to their work.
As e-discovery knowledge workers continue to evolve into hybrid providers of services related to the different aspects of the e-discovery life cycle, their skills must evolve as well.