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What is legal project management maturity?

Image Credit: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

In this article, we look at the differing levels of maturity for legal project management and what that means to law firms.

Who doesn’t want to be successful? To have repeatable and controllable success is the promise of good project management. Such promises don’t come easy, however. It takes good practices and procedures that are consistently applied, measured, and reviewed. This is the hallmark of mature organisational project management (OPM).

OPM is a standard established by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and represents the highest level of maturity for project management within a law firm. OPM is the desired high ground in the continuum of project management, and it brings the management of the firm’s projects, programmes, and portfolios into alignment with organisational and goals and strategy. (for the purposes of this article, an ‘organisation’ can also mean the entire firm or it can apply a specific practice group, office, department, or functional group.)

OPM is comprised of three mature areas:

  1. Project management — Formal project management is aimed at accomplishing a defined goal by managing people, time, and budgets, as well as providing effective communications, risk management, goal-setting, scheduling, and management of expectations. Management of client-related projects is known as Legal Project management (LPM).
  2. Program management — With the right support and direction, the practice of legal project management can mature to provide program management, which is the coordinated management of multiple strategically related projects.
  3. Portfolio management — As the management of programs becomes mature, a larger legal organization may decide to strategically manage multiple programs of projects. This is called Portfolio management.

Benefits of legal OPM

Why should a law firm undertake OPM? For one reason, a law firm that achieves a mature level of OPM can expect a wide range of benefits, including:

  1. Strategic alignment and met expectations: Projects and programmes will successfully align to the firm’s strategic objectives for client work. Projects, programmes, and portfolios will end up being more consistent and predictable. And a successful project fulfils client and firm expectations.
  2. Specialised and competitive: A firm with mature OPM doesn’t struggle with just making a project successful, and project handling can grow beyond the basics. Projects, programmes, and portfolios management can more comfortably become increasingly tailored and customised for clients, within practice groups, and for the firm as a whole to become a distinct competitive advantage.
  3. Knowledge management: Legal knowledge management is perhaps the most critical benefit of OPM. In a mature firm, knowledge management will be an inherent part of its project management processes. The advantages of an effective LPM knowledge management system can be a strong incentive to share knowledge and further collaboration.
  4. Measured: You have to measure it if you want to manage it’, is a modern-day management axiom. Mature OPM will provide a firm with a means to measure and understand competency and performance of ongoing and completed project work.
  5. Going global: Client projects can be global in reach. A mature OPM approach can keep the firm’s project-management competitive in an increasingly connected world.
  6. Other benefits: Maturity can result in more successful and well-run projects that will mean i) increased customer satisfaction; ii) higher return on project investments; and iii) improved schedule and budget sustainability.

How mature is your firm’s legal project management?

As a firm invests more into project management, the firm becomes more involved in actively supporting projects, programmes, and portfolios. As such, project management evolves from just a reactive struggle and becomes a robust and valued business asset for the firm.

To evolve and achieve this high plain of project management, it is important to measure the firm’s project management maturity. Once the firm understands how well project management is currently used, a clear path can be devised to improve and mature. This progression of maturity can be visualised as five levels:

Level 1: Ad hoc: Project management measures are ad hoc and highly reliant on the experience and competence of people. Projects are completed, but may be over-budget, past their scheduled deadline, or lacking in quality. The firm does not value project management as an organisation, and therefore, project management is inconsistent or not done.

Level 2: Low Level: Projects are planned and monitored using accepted practices, as required. However, practices are not uniform between projects and do not adhere to any organisational standard. There is little consistency overall, nor management by the firm. While the firm recognises the value of project management, it has few formal processes in place.

Level 3: Proactive and Organised: Project and programme planning, and management is tailored to the complexity of the project as required. Processes are consistent and project performance is managed and measured by the firm. Project management has recognised value for the firm.

Level 4: Value Driven: Project management is a high level of function and maturity. Projects are well-managed, and project performance is actively measured and analysed for improvement opportunities that add value to the firm. The firm actively manages projects, programmes, and portfolios. Project management and processes are well-funded and highly valued by the firm.

Level 5: Optimised: Project management is highly valued and a part of the firm’s culture. Project management processes and performance are continuously viewed and managed at the organisational level. Project and program success rate is high, and they are attuned to provide value to the firm and its clients. This is the highest level of maturity.

Progressing from one maturity level to the next could take between one and two years, depending on the firm. Each firm is different, and there could be various levels of maturity within the firm. It is critical to assess and understand what level of maturity your firm or practice group currently is on. The above levels of project management maturity can be a useful tool to initially estimate the level of your firm’s maturity.

However, to effectively plan and improve your firm’s project management maturity, a formal assessment should be conducted using greater detail and analysis. Such an assessment will determine the current maturity of your firm and practice groups and outline a detailed action plan to improve the firm’s project management maturity.

Building legal OPM maturity

How does a firm go about improving its project management maturity? Implementing OPM does not follow a short or simple path. There will be a significant amount of organisational change, especially in low-maturity firms where project management relies on individuals rather than firm-wide processes.

  1. Adopt a maturity model: Use PMI’s OPM standard as your firm’s model or tailor it to fit your needs.
  2. Do a project management maturity assessment: Self-assess or hire an expert to perform an assessment to determine your firm’s maturity. Your budget and time will dictate your choice.
  3. Build a solid multi-year game plan: A good assessment will provide a solid game plan for how your firm can move ahead and get you started building an effective plan to follow.
  4. Build your strategy first, then buy technology: It is tempting to buy technology to up your maturity game. It is true—good technology investments are the cornerstone of any maturity plan, but it doesn’t start at that point. Purchase technology solutions only after the firm has a solid OPM strategy in place.
  5. Invest in your users: Make certain your users are not only trained in how the firm wants to manage legal projects, but also engaged. The key to growing your maturity is keeping your users involved and engaged.
  6. Embed legal project management in your firm’s management: Executive oversight is critical for achieving a high level of maturity. Management must be engaged in order to have a mature organisation that effectively supports and addresses critical business needs.


Achieving project management maturity is a long road that requires law firms to focus and cultivate their people, processes, and technology. Many law firms have embraced basic legal project and programme management as a competitive advantage for client work.

Yet, OPM sets an even loftier goal by helping the firm align project management maturity with its strategic objectives. In the long run, embracing and maturing the firm’s OPM may prove to be an even bigger competitive advantage.

Learn more about innovative legal technology and how it can help  organisations operate more effectively.

Don Philmlee, Technology Strategist

Don Philmlee is an entrepreneur, consultant, strategist and technology advocate with a broad range of experience finding and making useful technology work successfully.

He founded and managed a hands-on technology consultancy focused on providing result-oriented solutions to professional organizations. Don provides strategic technology services including project management, technology management and implementation and security consulting.

Over the past 30-plus years, his clients have included hundreds of law firms, associations, government and other organisations in the United States and Europe. He is also an author, teacher, lecturer, mentor and advocate on security trends and technology implementation and management. Don is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) since 2006 and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) since 2003.

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