In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, he writes about the British cycling team’s 10-year Continuous Improvement journey from 2007 to 2017, which resulted in the team winning 178 world championships and 66 gold medals through compounded, marginal improvements. Clear’s experience shows that Aesop’s fable of the hare and the tortoise can sometimes prove to be true, and starting small can reap big rewards in the long term. How can we use this methodology to help legal teams set up a continuous cycle of improvement projects?
Continuous Improvement – how can it help you?
Continuous Improvement is a well-established framework to deliver ongoing, incremental enhancements to services, processes and products, which over time collectively deliver more significant benefits. Like any process, it must be embedded in your ways of working.
We’ve battle-tested our own Continuous Improvement techniques for legal teams at Gilbert + Tobin internally over a number of years. For example, one of our major improvement areas internally at Gilbert + Tobin has been the traditionally manual and administrative M&A due diligence process. Since starting the project in 2016, we’ve developed tools and integrated technology, such as AI for contract analysis, to improve this process and focus our lawyers’ time on high-quality legal advice. We’ve been tweaking and incrementally improving our in-house due diligence management software, dd<i>, which helps lawyers manage review allocations, collate review results with intelligent data capture forms and run the RFI process.
The learnings from internal initiatives (such as our due diligence project) have influenced our advice to clients on in-house legal team projects such as contract and document management. In the process, we’ve adapted the methodology for legal use cases and share some of our key tips in this article for in-house legal teams embarking on a Continuous Improvement journey.
Tips for embarking on a Continuous Improvement journey
- Before starting any Continuous Improvement initiative, it is important to have a clear vision for the team and objectives for the particular initiative. For example, if you are looking to improve the way your legal team manages and stores emails or documents, your vision may be “to develop processes to allow the legal team to collaborate and share information and documents efficiently”. Your Continuous Improvement initiative can now focus effort towards this objective without being unnecessarily rigid about how to get there.
- Identify new improvement opportunities through feedback or review. Two effective vehicles for identifying new improvements are through user feedback and retrospectives. Create formal feedback loops from your team and other stakeholders such as business teams involved in the project. Ensure these are logged and stored in an improvement register. Checkpoints like project briefings or retrospectives are designed for this, and you can read more about these in our article Turning Hindsight into Foresight – what we can learn from lockdown.
- Start small. Take your preferred opportunity and solution and start small, breaking it down into a series of micro-projects. This approach will make your improvement solutions achievable. For example, if a good solution for triaging requests is likely to involve multiple teams and require significant development, you might want to first prototype with a team you work closely with, embed the learnings from the prototype and then roll-out to a broader team. Your solution might also only solve one of a series of pain points, with a view to addressing the other pain points over time.
- Treat Continuous Improvement initiatives like any other high-priority project – include KPIs and budget. Plan and resourcing the projects effectively will help continue the momentum and including projects as a standing agenda item in meetings introduces transparency.
- Track and celebrate success. Ensure learnings from one initiative are implemented in future initiatives and are achievable. The overall aims of initiatives may be certainty (minimising known or unknown obstacles), quality (no impact to the quality of the output even when working remotely) or culture (creating a decentralised, high-performing team), and while not all are easily measurable, it does not mean they cannot be celebrated or learnt from.
By using these tips, we hope you can start to consider Continuous Improvement initiatives within your legal team, get the ball rolling and realise the long-term benefits of small, incremental cycles of improvements.
The time to start pedalling is now.
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