An initiative pyramid as a way to think about operational improvements in law departments

Rossabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School urges senior executives to categorize their investments in innovative products or services by means of a pyramid. At the top are a few “strategic bets,” in the middle is a wider set of new efforts and pilot projects, and at the broad base are “many incremental quick wins and continuous improvements.” According to Bus. Week’s IN, March 2007 at 3, this conceptual schema helps executives “have a variety of new concepts in play with varying degrees of risk and returns.” How might these ideas benefit general counsel?

A general counsel not only should inventory management initiatives underway (See my post of March 27, 2005 to this point.), but also should think of them in terms of a risk pyramid. One or two big changes are enough – think of a new matter management system or a concentrated commitment to pro bono (See my post of Feb. 10, 2007 about overuse of the adjective “strategic.”). Departments can handle a larger number of new forays, such as to pilot fixed fees with a firm or to collect electronic versions of work product from outside counsel. Finally, all the ongoing improvements – bar coding files, speeding up the accrual reporting process, choosing a template for severance releases – can be thought of in the bottom layer (See my post of Aug. 22, 2006 on the notion of kaizen.).

Of course it’s not just initiative risk that needs to be distributed and assessed, but also the pace, number, and resources required of operational changes.

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