Peer to Peer Magazine

March 2012

The quarterly publication of the International Legal Technology Association

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The expression, "It's five o'clock somewhere," takes on new meaning for IT staff supporting a firm with a global footprint. It may be five o'clock in the morning in one office, five o'clock in the evening in another and some time in between in other offices. As a result, the process of selecting, prioritizing, implementing and managing new technology projects becomes more complex. With these complexities, however, come significant opportunities to improve project portfolio management processes. Structure and flexibility are the most important keys to success. It may sound like an oxymoron, since people often think increased structure leads to decreased flexibility; but when done well, the opposite is true. Sound portfolio management processes allow firms to adapt resources to address changing priorities without people feeling as though they are constantly changing course. Align and Prioritize The first rule of project portfolio management, whether for a firm with one office or dozens of offices, is that any project that does not explicitly support at least one of the firm's business objectives or mitigate some type of risk for the firm, should not move forward. Ideally, the firm will have documented objectives for the coming year. If not, these should be determined as part of the annual budget process. All IT projects should be aligned with those business objectives. Projects that will have the greatest impact on the firm's business objectives, naturally, should have top priority. Everyone on each project team, no matter their role in the firm, should understand how the project aligns with the firm's objectives. Teams that understand how they are contributing to the success of the firm will be less likely to resist change if their projects are put on hold, or if they are asked to participate in another project. A High-Level View To be able to quickly react to business needs, an up-to-date, clear, high-level view into the project portfolio should be established via project portfolio management software or something considerably less formal, such as a spreadsheet. Each project's priority and progress toward completion should be clearly identified and reviewed with senior management at a frequency that makes sense for the firm. Generally, the larger the size of the firm, the more active projects in process and the more frequent the reviews should be. Somewhere between monthly and quarterly is probably right. Throughout the year, new projects will emerge and projects will change in priority as economic and political factors affecting the firm and its clients dictate. For example, a data security law enacted in Europe might affect records in a firm's CRM system on a server in the United States, which could require redirection of resources, particularly if there are deadlines for compliance. On a larger scale, a firm expansion, particularly into a new geographic region, may require a significant shift of resources away from previously identified, high-priority projects. A well-managed, transparent project portfolio can absorb changes of any scope because everyone who is part of the process, from the project teams to senior management around the world, understands where resources need to be allocated. Structured But Flexible Managing individual projects across international offices can be just as complex and challenging as selecting and prioritizing the portfolio. Again, structure and flexibility are critical throughout the process, and frequent communication across a variety of channels is required. For team meetings, it is generally preferable to meet on a recurring day and time so the team gets into a rhythm. When project teams are distributed around the globe, particularly in time zones with little or no workday overlap, it might make sense to rotate the meeting time to be convenient for teams in each geographic region. This becomes even more important when working with teams from the East Coast, West Coast, Europe and Asia. Finding a time of day when everyone is working is impossible. Finding a time of day when everyone is awake is more feasible, so alternating meeting times may be an appropriate compromise. Centralized or Scattered Deploying firmwide systems in offices around the world will always raise performance concerns for those farthest from the heart of the data center. For systems with a centralized database, application acceleration across the WAN may be required; or it may be preferable to implement small data centers in various regions of the world. This is especially important to support a product like Microsoft Exchange, for example, since instant delivery of email messages is of paramount importance to both internal and external clients. In both cases, with an initial foray abroad, there will be additional hardware costs, vendor reviews and project planning for implementing a software product. The project team will need to conduct basic feature testing, and later in the process, take on more complex tasks when performance testing is added to the mix. Coordinate Change Management When it comes to deployment, setting a change management schedule is not quite as difficult as scheduling a project team meeting with stakeholders around the world, but it is certainly a challenge to coordinate in order to avoid disruption during working hours. As such, a "big bang" deployment where everyone gets an installation at the same time is unrealistic. It's better to choose a standard time when changes will occur, say at 1:00 a.m. local time, wherever "local" is for the affected office. Environment Peer to Peer 49

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