Migrated from eDJGroupInc.com. Author: Kevin Esposito. Published: 2011-03-21 08:00:14Format, images and links may no longer function correctly. The children’s song “Do Re Mi” starts with the line “Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start”.  What seems like a standard concept even for children is anything but when operating in the world of eDiscovery.  In many engagements, we’re brought into the mix long after work has started and asked to take over bits and pieces of what one or more groups of people have been working on. Although you might be presented with hard drives, images, backup tapes and paper, very rarely will you be provided with that key ingredient – “The Plan”.

It really doesn’t matter if you’re in-house counsel, outside counsel or a third party consultant. In many discovery matters, you’ll be brought into a situation and asked to “handle it”.  Sometimes it seems as though the requestor takes a perverse delight in dropping a real problem right into your lap.  We call this the “Dead Mouse Syndrome”, named after the process whereby your local cat will kill a mouse, promptly pick it up and drop it at your feet.  The cat seems well pleased with the effort, but you’re the one that has to clean up the mess.

One of the biggest challenges that you face is getting everyone to take a deep breath and reassess.  There’s such a huge desire to keep things moving that no one wants to take the time to sort out exactly what has transpired and try to link that to the eventual outcomes desired.

If you’re put into one of these situations it is important that you’re not pulled in to the overall panic.  There are some basic steps to take:

  • Delineate – take a moment to write down the issues involved and potential outcomes
  • Enumerate – take stock of exactly how much has been spent already on specific tasks
  • Inventory – set out exactly what human and technical resources are available
  • Map – set out a written description of what will be done when and by whom

There are many different tools that can be used to take care of these issues.  They don’t need to be very complex, but they should be shareable by all.  Lots of clients will already have Microsoft Project in house.  That is a very robust tool that can be used for planning, but the user interface leaves much to be desired.  Many business people will balk at using it, but you’ll find, however, that it is still very popular with IT departments and formal Change Management groups.  Mac users now have their own version of project management called Merlin.  It is a relatively new application suite, but as with all Mac based applications it has a devoted following.  For those that prefer something that is Open Source, Endeavour SPM and eGroupWare are two candidates worth investigating.  Another source of potential project management tools are support management suites that corporations use to manage their internal infrastructure.  Products such as Remedy Service Desk and Numara Track-IT have been in the market for many years and may be available at client locations for use in issue tracking.

The important point is to begin to catalog all of the issues and resources that are available and to lay out a concise plan for how to track them.  Clients that are in the IT or manufacturing sectors may already have planning tools in use.  Rather than attempting to train their people on a new tool, see if there are ways that you can leverage the tools already in place.  If groups are used to tracking their performance on some level of internal system, they will be much less likely to reject out of hand any request to document support processes if they can do so in their native tools.

You may also learn that the internal project tracking tools are tied to the performance evaluation systems at larger corporations.  This provides an additional incentive to those that need to support you.  For example, an IT team is much less likely to miss a harvesting deadline or a data shipment date if that omission causes a drop in their “On Time Performance” score for that month.

Another reason for creating a separate work plan is that it helps with cutting down on the “blame game” emails that may be working their way around the internet. We’ve been on more than one engagement where a senior attorney sends a message out that says “Stop creating this email trail on our errors”.  If you’re sharing project management files, there’s all kinds of great ways using flags and colors (and in some cases even sounds) to alert everyone interested as to who has fallen down on the job.

Creating the plan is just the start.  Another important element is in getting everyone to sign off on their part of the plan.  Ensure that there is an approval or verification step so that everyone understands exactly what their part of a plan is.  Insist on getting a response to sending out project files and ensure that there is a single point of contact that will help with tracking all of the affiliated tasks.  A project plan does you no good if no one is watching it.

Be sure to establish regular updates via email or conference call to ensure that all parties know of project progress – or the lack of it.

Some of these points may seem to be fairly basic or common sense.  While that’s true, in many areas of life, common sense goes out the window when the crisis hits.  Taking a moment to assemble a battle plan pays dividends.

To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, “If you can keep your head, while all others are losing theirs and blaming it on you – you’re probably the man for the job”.

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