As in-house counsel, the days of dropping your knowledge and going about your merry way like outside counsel are gone. More often than not, it is up to you to implement systematic changes to ensure compliance with new laws, which is where project management comes in.
Admittedly, project management is a skill that I did not flex much before I came in-house. I suppose an argument could be made that managing your own docket and cases and (re)prioritizing them is a form of project management, and I certainly did that as a firm lawyer. But it wasn’t until I became an in-house lawyer that I had true project work like creating an online training and conducting a comprehensive audit.
If you are new to in-house and find yourself in charge of a project, here are a few tips. And for those of you who are true project management professionals and purists, I apologize in advance. I am neither, but I am a big fan of getting things done as efficiently as possible.
Without a doubt, your manager, who is assigning you the project, is a key stakeholder. And you probably already know how often you need to communicate with them and how much detail you need to provide. But there are likely other individuals or parts of the organization who need to be involved or who may be affected by the project such as decision-makers or customers. For example, when I worked on creating an online training, I involved human resources, the corporate investigations team, diversity and inclusion, and talent development. As you come up with a list, consider how often you need to keep them in the loop or get their input. It may depend on their level in the company.
This is a must. The No. 1 reason for project failure is poor or incomplete requirements. I also don’t love scope creep. When you are asked to lead a project, take the time to understand the purpose of the project. What problem is your proposed project trying to solve? What is the expected deliverable? Who is the audience or end user? What is the deadline, the budget? The more questions you can ask on the front end to get clarity, the better. Just as important as figuring out what is included is to also know what is excluded. What has been considered and ruled out? And don’t forget to get everyone’s alignment on the scope.
Beyond taking notes at each of your meetings, I recommend keeping a running list of decisions made and the rationale. I know it sounds like extra work, but if you don’t, you run the risk of revisiting decisions-made — either because people forget or more commonly, it occurs when stakeholders are apprised or brought in asynchronously. Even if people remember the decisions made, there can be a rehash of the analysis which is why including the rationale on your list is helpful.
Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.