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Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

How’s your innovation health?

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Innovation is increasingly a critical competency for all businesses – in today’s global, dynamic markets. But many businesses lack effective capabilities in innovation. Our latest video on our YouTube channel looks at innovation challenges and the use of ‘best practice’ assessment to drive innovation improvement. We also overview the use of the Codexx ‘Foundations for Innovation’ (F4i) assessment solution – developed in 2006 with the support of John Bessant, then Professor for Innovation at Imperial College Business School in London. And we do all this with a light sprinkling of humour…. and why not?

Take a look:

Lean in law firms – five key lessons

Monday, December 4th, 2017

by Alastair Ross

I’ve been working with many major UK law firms since 2005, helping them to improve both the value and the efficiency of their services. A key philosophy I have used in this work has been Lean thinking. I thought it would be useful to reflect on that experience and capture five key lessons I’ve learned over the last 12 years about applying Lean in law firms.

Lesson 1 – A law firm is not a factory (not quite anyway)

I first applied Lean back in 1990 as a manufacturing manager in IBM. It was not known as Lean then – but as ‘Continuous Flow Manufacturing, ‘Just in time’ or Kaizen. Later I used it in improvement projects in chemicals, automotive and aerospace companies. In the late 1990s the term ‘Lean’ was coined by Womack and Jones to cover this improvement philosophy and tools. In 2005 I began working with major law firms in the UK that were feeling the heat of increasing competition and market deregulation. It quickly became clear that Lean thinking could be readily applied to help these firms improve their service value and delivery efficiency. But it was also clear that the culture in a law firm, the ‘craft’ based working methods and the terminology meant that Lean needed to be communicated and tailored differently. Partners did not readily relate to case studies of car factories – they needed to understand how lean could be applied to knowledge-intensive services such as law. And equally lean approaches that worked on the factory floor did not always work quite so readily in a legal team!

Lesson 2 – Process thinking does not come naturally to lawyers

Lean thinking is naturally focused on how work activities and resources are applied to the flow of value from the business to the customer – the so-called ‘value stream’. This value stream is realised in a business process that delivers products or services to the customer. So lean thinking is used to assess and improve these processes. This approach comes naturally in a manufacturing environment where there is a common understanding of work being codified into production processes. But this is not the case in a law firm – ‘process thinking’ is an alien concept especially for work types where one fee earner may currently perform all of the work. This is where process mapping is very effective in getting a team of fee earners to draw up the activities that are required to deliver a service – thus producing a visual map of the process. This can then be used to highlight wastes and begin the journey to improvement. Doing this in a collaborative way with fee earners in a change team is the best approach in my experience – getting lawyer buy-in to the improvements and also creating a cadre of ‘process improvement advocates’ within the firm. (And by the way this is why I am not a fan of Six Sigma for law firms – it’s overkill and not as easily deployed as Lean).

Lesson 3 – There is a lot of waste in legal services

A core element of the Lean philosophy is a ruthless focus on the identification and elimination of waste. But what can be considered as waste? It is any activity or resource that does not add value to what is provided to the customer. Waste accumulates in businesses just like dust and debris in a house. Regular hoovering and the occasional major ‘spring clean’ is the solution in a house. And something similar is required in a business to keep its business processes effective and efficient. But what if a business doesn’t feel the need to do this? If the competitive and market pressures are not sufficiently tough that they need to do such ‘process housekeeping’? This was pretty much the situation in the legal sector for many years – times were good and margins were high. But since the financial crash in 2008, the dramatic impact of the internet and other information technologies and in the UK the deregulation of the sector – things have changed. Law firms are feeling the pressure from budget-squeezed clients, new entrants and new business models. So now firms are looking at their how they deliver their services – and they are finding much waste: Poorly defined, inefficient working methods, inefficient use of people (so much legal work is performed at too high a skill level), errors, rework and poor use of IT, for example.

There is a positive message: With this high level of waste, there is much improvement possible.

So firms can significantly improve their competitive position by using lean to identify and radically reduce this waste (see Lesson 5).

Lesson 4 – Start with a partner champion and a fixed fee service

Making change in partnerships is tough – much more so than in a corporate where the ‘it’s my way or the highway’ diktat can more readily be applied… The other major challenge is that ‘the billable’ hour discourages law firms from improving efficiency – as it results in reduced revenue. Great for the client, but not so compelling for the partnership. But the fee regime is changing with more clients in the UK looking for budget certainty and so enforcing reduced and fixed fees for many transactions. This has created financial pain for firms – much of my work has been with firms who have been forced to move to a fixed fee for a service and are making little or no profit for each matter.

To effectively harness this ‘burning platform’ for improvement, a Partner ‘champion’ is needed – one who is positive and committed to driving major improvement in the service. They are critical in being the business partner to an external change agent, in leading a change team of fee earners and removing road-blocks to change within the firm. From my experience, the presence of such a partner champion is a key ‘Go/No Go’ for a Lean improvement project.

 Lesson 5 – More for less is an achievable outcome

There is a common believe in professional services firms that cost reduction will inevitably lead to a reduction in service quality. In other words something has to give – you either have a high quality or low cost service, you can’t have both.

 This is simply not true.

My work with multiple law firms covering 20 legal services has enabled direct cost reductions of between 25 and 75% – whilst improving value to the client, with more consistency and responsiveness. Why is this possible? Because firms can reduce service cost by reducing or eliminating the waste inherent in legal service delivery (see Lesson 3). This waste adds no value to clients and indeed consumes lawyer resources and time – so removing it will not have any negative effects on client value. Only positive ones.

 So service quality can be improved and cost reduced at the same time.

So what’s the key message for law firms?

It’s a simple one, if a firm is not yet using Lean thinking as part of its transformation work it’s failing to grasp a major opportunity. For Lean can deliver significant business improvements with little capital investment (IT can help, but it’s not mandatory) and provide a foundation for ongoing improvement. And if a firm is looking to exploit new technologies such as AI, it had better make sure it’s building on solid foundations – automating a poor process may simply deliver the proverbial ‘pig with lipstick’….

 

This article was first published by Alastair Ross on LinkedIn on 1st December 2017.

How healthy are your legal services?

Monday, November 20th, 2017

Business challenges are driving services thinking in law firms

Today law firms must compete on the basis of their legal services – not just their lawyers.  Clients buy legal services to get problems solved and these services are typically delivered by lawyers – but with increasing competition, the impact of IT and the internet and deregulation in some markets, this is changing. With the aim of meeting client demands of ‘more for less’ and doing so profitably, progressive firms are giving increased focus to improving the value of their services and the efficiency with which they are delivered.

The legal service paradigm has changed

Twenty years ago ‘legal services’ were simply the aggregate outcome of the work of a number of lawyers with a specific set of skills. The way the work was performed and delivered varied by office, by partner, by fee earner and over time. There was little consistency in how the service was performed or delivered.

The legal world is very different today. To find out more and how you can assess and improve your legal services read our new whitepaper: How healthy are your legal services?

If you would like to know more about Codexx experience or services in this area, please contact us.

 

 

Transformation in a mid-sized law firm – Whitepaper

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Major law firms are operating in a time of great change with significant pressures on their core business model, driven by a ‘perfect storm’ of factors:

  • Digitisation of legal service delivery, using the internet & mobile
  • More sophisticated and price-focused clients demanding ‘more for less’
  • Continuing austerity – impacting public and private sector legal budgets
  • Deregulation to enable new entrants and new business models

The UK legal press primarily gives coverage to the large law firms – particularly the so-called ‘magic’ and ‘silver circle’ firms licensed in England and Wales – and how they are responding to market, regulatory and technology challenges.

But how are mid-sized regional firms dealing with these challenges? These firms are typically competing for work where rates and indeed margins are significantly lower than for the large firms competing for M&A and complex litigation work – and these are being further squeezed in this challenging environment.

To better understand the challenges and effective approaches for making major transformation in such a mid-sized law firm we returned to one of our legal clients with whom we worked in 2011-12 on a Lean programme. At that stage, ASB Law, a progressive south coast firm, was just starting out on a programme of major transformation. We interviewed Andrew Clinton, who has been the Managing Partner of the firm since 2006. He has been championing and leading the firm’s programme of transformation.

Andrew was open and frank about the firm’s approach to transformation, its challenges on this journey and its achievements so far. He agreed to the documentation of this interview in a Codexx whitepaper and sharing it in the public domain. We have done so and also added a commentary based on our re-engineering and innovation experience with multiple firms in the legal sector since 2005.

This paper provides a practical and detailed review on the approaches, challenges and lessons learned in making and sustaining major transformation in a mid-sized law firm. We have also included a framework for the effective design and management of transformation programmes. To read the paper click on the link below.

Driving transformation in a mid-sized law firm – ASB Law Case Study – September 2017

International SAP Conference for Professional Services – October 2017

Monday, September 11th, 2017

How can Enterprise Systems like SAP enhance the performance of professional service firms? To help answer this question, SAP will be hosting their first international conference for Professional Services in Amsterdam on the 10-1th October 2017.

Alastair Ross, Director of Codexx, will be presenting on the 11th October in a special forum on ‘Driving Successful Innovation in Professional Service Firms’. His presentation will address key aspects such as:

  • Forces for and against change within professional services
  • The need for an holistic approach – People, process and IT
  • Establishing an environment for innovation
  • Re-engineering & automating services delivery – Key success factors.

Further information on the conference and presenters.

The new professional will be doing less content but delivering more value

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

How will the form of the professional services firm and the role of professionals change in the next decade?

This is an important question given the importance of professional knowledge workers such as IT specialists, designers, architects, lawyers, management consultants and accountants to the modern economy.

There is a major discontinuity emerging between the established paradigms of professional services and the emerging new paradigms that will be needed in response to key market and technology-driven transformation forces. Understanding these changes and how they will impact existing firms, professionals and those aspiring to a professional services job is important to the future of firms and professionals.

“The lawyer of the future will be doing less law.”

Those were the words spoken by the managing partner of a progressive UK law firm. They were said in one of a number of interviews I recently conducted with knowledge-intensive service firms including lawyers, management consultants and IT services businesses. Whilst these words specifically refer to the legal sector, there was a common theme in these interviews – and in my project work with professional service firms – that knowledge workers – whether they are lawyers, accountants, doctors, management consultants or other specialists – will, in the future, be focusing less on ‘technical content’ (i.e. their specialism) and much more on innovating new services, leading teams, collaborating with partners and building deeper client relationships.

Why will this happen and what does it mean for the future of knowledge workers and their firms?

 

What is driving these changes are major external trends:

  • Global competition – forcing firms to review and enhance their business models.
  • Client demands – driving firms to do ‘more for less’.
  • Global clients requiring consistency in service delivery across their locations.
  • Increasing IT value – enabling automation of repetitive knowledge work.
  • The ‘gig economy’ – offering firms a variable cost resource option.

In response to these trends, progressive knowledge-intensive service firms are taking the following actions in their business:

  • Streamlining and codifying repetitive work to enable lower cost service delivery.
  • Moving lower value work to less experienced and expensive personnel.
  • Applying IT solutions to automate repetitive work elements.
  • Experimenting/piloting AI solutions to automate more complex work.
  • Planning for reduction of core employees through contracting and outsourcing.
  • Broadening the capabilities of their senior professionals in non-technical areas.
  • Establishing more robust approaches for developing and managing services.

Many firms are using mergers to increase their scale which will help with funding major investment in IT and other improvements. However mergers in professional services are often problematic due to cultural misalignment and poor post-merger integration. They also dilute management focus. So the merger response to these challenges is by no means a ‘silver bullet’ – indeed it often results in major collateral damage….

The paradigm of the knowledge professional – be they a lawyer, accountant , consultant or other specialist – focused on performing fee earning work will change.

It will change to one where their time spent delivering expert content will reduce and be replaced by time spent in the following areas:

  • Developing new higher value services and partnerships.
  • Developing methods for delivery using automation or lower-skilled personnel.
  • Building a deeper understanding of client challenges.
  • Managing the delivery of new services and client relationships.
  • Leading and coaching junior personnel.

So how should firms and individuals prepare for these changes?

Firms need to develop new operating models that embrace these trends with strategies to achieve them. These strategies need to cover their organisation and skills development, their services design and delivery and their IT infrastructure. These strategies will deliver new business models that enable them to succeed in this new business landscape.

Individual professionals need to develop their skills portfolio to prepare them for this new world. They need to complement their deep content specialisms with broader capabilities in areas such as consultative selling, team leadership, project management and innovation. A useful model for this new world is as the ‘T-shaped’ specialist. In addition to these skills-based changes they need to take ownership of their individual skills development and branding. For they will increasingly be ‘going to market’ as an individual resource – as a subcontractor for a specific project – rather than as an anonymous professional ‘foot soldier’ working for a firm*.

*Tom Peters was certainly prescient when he wrote his book ‘The brand you 50’ in 1999, with his message to white-collar workers about the need to create their own personal brand.


This article was first published by the author on LinkedIn on 24th August 2017.

Redesigning legal services – lessons learned 2005-16

Friday, January 6th, 2017

Law firm re-engineering

Law firms are facing increasing business challenges due to the impact of globalisation, clients wanting ‘more for less’, deregulation and of course the impact of Information Technology and the Internet.

These challenges have driven progressive law firms to seek to improve their competitiveness by redesigning their services and support processes to improve the value delivered to clients and also the efficiency with which services are delivered.

Our new whitepaper explores the redesign of legal services – the reasons firms take this step, the approach used, the challenges faced and the benefits realised – using our experience gained in redesigning 20 legal services and processes for major English law firms between 2005-16.

Read it here: redesigning-legal-services-codexx-whitepaper-january-2017

 

 

Legal tech frenzy – lessons from industry

Friday, November 18th, 2016

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-man-working-modern-technology-image22891879The legal geek moves centre stage
There has been an explosion of interest in information technology in the legal sector of late – particularly technology at the leading edge such as Artificial Intelligence (AI). This interest was crystallised in the recent and well publicised ‘Legal Geek’ conference in London when a number of major law firms mingled with ‘LawTech’ companies and startups to discuss how new information technologies and new thinking could be used to transform ways of providing legal services. As well as AI and technologies such as blockchain the conference looked at ‘softer’ elements such as innovation and cultural change.

New thinking

This is a significant development in a business sector that has long been conservative and behind other sectors in its application of new business thinking and technology. It comes as many firms law struggle to maintain their levels of profitability in market conditions that have been challenging since the 2008 financial crash. The combination of price-focused clients, globalisation, the internet (and market deregulation in the UK) has driven law firms to seek to innovate in the services they provide and the ways they work.

Law firms typically have applied IT for legal research, case and document management and for the management of support activities such as time recording, billing and finance. This new wave of IT brings internet-based technologies and – what typically makes the press – Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. The application of these new technologies promises to revolutionalise the way law is provided – for the benefit of law firms who can work more efficiently and effectively – and for the benefit of clients who will receive ‘more for less’. The implementation of these technologies will – over time – help in digitizing key elements of legal services – making law more affordable and accessible to the large unmet market of small businesses and individuals.

Deja vu? Lessons from industry

Having worked for the last decade in helping major UK law firms transform their services through re-engineering and innovation – and also one who has consulted to multiple business sectors for twenty-five years – I am feeling a sense of deja vu.

In the 1990s, the industrial sector was in the midst of an ERP frenzy – implementing new Enterprise Resource Planning systems such as SAP and Oracle to transform the efficiency of their business operations. In the late 1990s and into the 2000s, the next wave of technology looked outwards into SCM (Supply Chain Management) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) – to better link business with their suppliers and customers. In both these ‘tech frenzies’, many companies suffered from implementation programmes that significantly overran their budget and plan and failed to achieve their business goals.

The root cause of many of these problems was the lack of an holistic and integrated approach to implementing these technologies as business transformation programmes, not simply as technology projects. The lessons learned were that there were key success factors for IT exploitation, particularly:

1. A vision & strategy are required for effective communication within the business, getting buy-in from key stakeholders and coordinating the resources and activities.

2. To get the best out of the IT, business processes need to be re-engineered first (to avoid the all-too-common ‘pig in lipstick’ outcome).

3. Effective programme management is required for effective coordination of IT, process and people work-streams.

4. Change management is fundamental to effectively deploying the new technology and working methods into daily business.

Are law firms grasping for a silver bullet?

New technology can often be an attractive ‘silver bullet’ for management teams faced with major business challenges. It appears as a nice ‘clean’ solution to a firm’s problems – as compared to complex messy process and organisational-based improvements. For this reason many businesses have wasted money and sub-optimised the impact of their technology investments by not ‘preparing the ground first’ with re-engineering and restructuring work.

We should also be clear that those law firms currently looking to apply new IT such as AI systems, are typically larger firms – the ‘Top 50’ in the UK – not the other 10,433 firms*. These are the wealthier and more sophisticated firms.

However in my re-engineering work with these larger firms in the last decade, it is clear that their services and processes have much opportunity for improvement. Re-engineering projects have typically yielded 25-50% cost reduction – whilst improving service quality – without the application of any new technology.

These services simply were not designed or operated in a systematic and efficient way. Automating them without re-engineering them first would significantly reduce the benefits from IT investment. Indeed for smaller firms lacking the capital or the resources for major IT investment, internal re-engineering work would be a better approach  for now – then later exploit the use of these new technologies when prices have reduced and functionality improved.

Structured evaluation and execution

So law firms should look outside their sector and seek to learn from others’ experience on how best to truly transform their businesses by exploiting new technologies and thinking. They should strategically evaluate – and incubate – these new technologies to determine how they can be used to re-fashion their value proposition and their business model. They should prepare the way by first systemising their services and processes. And they should manage the implementation of these new technologies as an holistic programme.

 

For more information on law firm innovation, see ‘Innovating professional services – transforming value and efficiency’ by Alastair Ross, published in May 2015 by Gower.

* There are 10,483 law firms registered in England and Wales in September 2016 according to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Law firm merger – making 1 + 1 > 2

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

Merger Dictionary Definition Word Combine Companies Businesses

 

Merger – the theory

Merger is an increasingly popular option for law firms seeking a transformational solution to the increasing challenges in the legal market. A merger will create a firm with increased services scope, geographic coverage and depth of resources. It will be attractive to major international clients seeking a legal partner capable of covering their requirements in the key commercial, real estate, employment and litigation areas. Merger will allow the new firm to benefit from economies of scale in negotiation with suppliers and in its support services. The merger will provide the magic of ‘synergies’ that will enable the sum to be truly greater than its parts (i.e. 1+1 is much greater than 2…)

 

Merger – the reality

Cut the sunshine and the smell of roses and cue fog and the sound of shouting and clashing swords. Back to the reality of merger. Because it’s tough to do well. Especially in a knowledge-intensive people-based business – like a law firm.

Getting the most out of a merger demands a bold vision for the new firm, a structured approach to achieve it and a clear picture of capabilities in each of the merging firms. There are very few cases of effective post-merger integration and optimisation in law firms. Many firms seem content to settle just for the larger scale that merger provides. Why is this?

An obvious reason is that making the most of a merger requires significant change and that is challenging in most law firms. The partnership model is very effective at resisting centrally-driven ‘mandated’ changes. Firms also do not typically operate or like ‘process thinking’ and typically resist standardisation of working. I’m using a thick brush to paint a crude picture here – but it is a recognisable one for most law firms – and it makes effective mergers a challenge. On top of this basic challenge is the fact that firms don’t typically have a vision or a programme for ‘post-merger optimisation’.

 

Post-merger optimisation needs process-thinking

The focus of most firms on merging is to adequately integrate the two organisations, working methods and IT and establish a new management structure. Indeed this is the necessary ‘phase one’ in getting a working business. But to make the most of the merger, a ‘phase two’ is required. This phase will optimise the joint capabilities of the merged firms to realise the potential synergies from the merger – to yield higher value to clients and improved efficiency for the firm. This requires a clear vision, process thinking and a structured approach, for example:

Before the first step: What’s the vision?

A challenging vision for the new firm that provides an improved level of competitiveness based on exploiting the potential synergies in the merged firms should be the starting point.

Step 1: Let’s see what we’ve got

A key first step is to objectively assess the services and processes in the merged firm to identify best practices and performance (i.e. where is the ‘one best way’ in each service/process element).

Step 2: Commonalisation and Rationalisation

The next step is to establish common processes and services, based on existing best practices (i.e. the ‘one best way’) that are standardised across the firm. This work can be part funded by the savings from realising the economies of scale in support and in the purchasing of products and services.

Step 3: Optimisation

For further optimisation the firm should consider the application of formal services management to establish a more systematic approach to delivery and innovation of services. Major automation of key common internal processes – using integrated enterprise software such as SAP – is now worth contemplating now that there are defined and optimised processes in place. Unfortunately too many firms seek to automate existing processes (without first improving them) and face the ‘pig in lipstick’ outcome…

 

Systems thinking is needed

The appetite of major law firms over the last few years to merge and create major – often global – law firms has created major national and international operations, some with yearly turnover well in excess of £1 billion. These mergers provide clients with increased support and a range and depth of legal capabilities – and thus increase the firms’ potential competitive position.

However such mergers also further challenge the existing operational methods within these firms for effective and efficient service delivery and the optimisation of support processes. Law firms typically lack the systematic approaches of services and process management and innovation. This is a weakness that will need to be addressed if these firms are to operate profitably in a services market that is increasingly global and digitally-enabled.

Director’s blog: Can you really train people to be innovators?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

the director's blog on innovation - logo with text

More innovation please

Raising the level of innovation is becoming a critical need for businesses as they face increasing competitive pressures. A fundamental requirement for making businesses more innovative – in what they provide to their customers and how they do so – is to get their managers and employees engaged and able to effectively participate in innovation activities. This requires an internal system for innovation that establishes key elements of enabling innovation infrastructure such as strategy, processes, tools and supporting resources. And part of this work involves training managers and employees in innovation.

But can you really train people to be innovators?

I ask this question, as there is a view – and not an uncommon one – that innovators are born not made: “Just look at Steve Jobs, James Dyson or Jeff Bezos – they weren’t trained to make them the innovators they are!” Implicit in this view is the belief that when it comes to innovation ‘you’ve either got it or you haven’t’. If that’s the case then what hope is there for businesses trying to innovate if they don’t happen to have a Jobs, Dyson, Bezos or the like in their midst….?

Innovation is not just creativity

Let’s step back and review a few innovation basics: Firstly, people often mix up innovation and creativity. Creativity is about generating ideas. Innovation is about creating value from ideas. Ideas on their own have no value – only potential value which has to be realised. Certainly some people are naturally more creative than others and thus more likely to generate potentially valuable ideas. But being creative alone is not enough – we also need the skills to realise the ideas and transform them into value. That requires skills in idea exploration and analysis, development of new offerings and methods, project management, marketing and selling (internally and externally) for example. And ideas can be effectively generated by (less creative) people working systematically anyway (through effective brainstorming and other ideation methods). So innovation requires a mix of capabilities, not just creativity.

Not only a lone genius required

When talking about improving innovation in an organisation it’s important to remember that the goal should be to ‘institutionalise’ innovation – to enable regular and sustained innovation through widespread and integrated efforts – rather than the occasional spark of innovation enabled by a few individuals (who can have off days or can leave). People forget that Apple’s innovation success with its iPod, iPhone and iPad was the result of multiple innovations by many individuals with Steve Jobs being the orchestrator and very much the public face, but by no means the sole innovator – and indeed his orchestration was ineffective and inefficient at times (read the excellent biography ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson for details).

One of the earliest examples of effective institutional innovation was the Menlo Park laboratories established by Thomas Edison in 1876. This was one of the first large-scale research establishments and formed the template for R&D organisations for the next fifty years. Edison brought together more than 200 talented scientists, engineers and craftsman and overlaid a system of innovation that harnessed their skills in a structured and productive way with defined teams, extensive experimentation and record keeping. It was a highly productive operation and created more than 400 patents. Whilst Edison was very much the public face of innovation, it was very much an institutional rather than individual approach to innovation, with defined targets such as ‘a minor innovation every 10 days and a big thing every six months or so’.

Most innovation is doing existing things better

A more modern example in a services firm is that of AXA Insurance in Ireland which started up an innovation programme in 2000. Theirs was very much an experimental approach, learning as they went along. They found that they could generate lots of new ideas from their employees but they needed to apply a process to effectively screen and select the best ideas. One key insight was when they analysed the ideas implemented in their first few years of the programme they found that 80% of them were concerned with removing waste or improving existing services or ways of working. Only 10% were ideas for new innovative services. This finding helped demystify innovation in the business – employees realised that most innovation was in doing existing things better – incremental innovation – which they could certainly do in their daily work. That is a powerful message for all businesses: Don’t just look for the ‘silver bullets’ of radical innovation, spend most of your time removing the ‘rust and grime’ from your existing methods and processes and then ‘polish them’ to make them more effective. Industrial experience of Continuous Improvement, making use of basic techniques for measurement, analysis and waste elimination – often within a Lean programme – has shown the power of such ‘do better’ innovation. Training employees in these core techniques can make them more structured and effective in their work on process innovation.

So you can train people to become innovators?

You can indeed train people to be effective in ‘do better’ or incremental innovation – which accounts for the vast majority of innovation. But what about ‘do different’ radical innovation? This type of innovation is needed if a firm wants to leap ahead of rivals. And firms would certainly want a few silver bullets as part of their innovation armoury…

To help answer this question I’m going to use the example of the UK legal sector. Most observers would not consider law to be a natural environment for innovation and rather unkindly might jest that ‘lawyer’ and ‘innovative’ are two words never found in the same sentence… That might well have been true(ish) twenty years ago, but it’s a viewpoint that is increasingly out of date today. For the UK legal sector has been in a state of major change for the last decade, driven by a combination of deregulation, tougher market conditions driven by the economic fallout from the 2008 financial crash, and the increasing impact of the internet. The result is clients ‘wanting more for less’, new rivals, internet-enabled entrants and law firms recognising the need for major changes in both their offerings and their working methods. Many have embraced innovation in their services – often with a primary goal of efficiency and cost improvement.

Through Codexx I have worked with a good number of major UK law firms helping them to respond to these major challenges by applying innovation. This has taken the form of two different types of interventions:

  • Specific service innovation (aka ‘re-engineering’)
  • Improving a firm’s innovation capabilities

Service innovation – a focused environment for innovation

In my work with law firms since 2006 I have helped law firms re-engineer a total of 20 legal services using a Codexx approach called ‘Smarter Working’. This approach uses a small core team of fee earners and support staff to perform the re-engineering with the support of the Codexx consultant. We effectively establish a ‘micro innovation environment’ using collaborative workshops and with training in team-working, some basic Lean principles and creative idea generation methods. This has resulted in major redesign of services such as Commercial Due Diligence, Inquest and Clinical Negligence, to reduce costs by as much as 75% whilst improving service quality. It has also resulted in the development of new internet-enabled services. Looking back at this work over the last decade I can unequivocally say that you can train lawyers – or indeed any other employees – to be very effective innovators within a supportive environment for innovation.

Improving innovation capabilities

Other law firms have wanted to take a broader approach, not just focused on selected services, but to make their firms ‘more innovative’. Their goal was a firm that used sustained innovation to improve its services, its efficiency and thus its competitive differentiation and its attraction as a place to work for progressive lawyers. To help them do this I have applied Codexx methods and tools to help them establish a systematic approach to innovation and use this to drive innovation of new and improved services and working methods. This work included strategy development, an innovation process & support structure, change management and of course training for selected personnel.

From my experience a key strategic approach to establishing innovation on a firm-wide basis is to run two parallel missions: the first to build the required innovation system and the second to deliver innovation outcomes (e.g. improvements, enhanced services etc.). The first mission is key to long term innovation success; the second is key to delivering benefits early and to help gain buy-in through demonstrable early success. I have delivered training on innovation to selected personnel in a number of firms (often innovation ‘champions’ whose role is to spearhead innovation activities) and typically found lawyers receptive and able to effectively apply the new methods – generating both incremental and more radical ideas. Based on this, there is no doubt in my mind that these lawyers and support personnel can be very effective in catalysing and supporting innovation within their firm.

That is of course if they are given the ‘space’ for innovation.

The one proviso – space for innovation

So you can indeed train people to be capable of innovation. But they can only subsequently realise that capability and successfully innovate if the organisation allows them space to do so. ‘Space for innovation’ covers a number of key attributes:

  • Leadership supportive of innovation – not just focusing on today’s business
  • Time available for work on innovation – always a challenge for people busy running the daily business
  • A wide, but defined, frame to seek innovation in – innovation in a vacuum is rarely effective…
  • A supportive culture for innovation – valuing effort and recognising some failures as inevitable
  • Resources to support innovation (such as other personnel, methods, tools and budget)

Unfortunately these are not always put in place or sustained to accompany training for innovation – and then all the teaching in the world on innovation will have as much effect as trying to light a fire on boggy ground….

Alastair Ross

Director
Codexx Associates Ltd

Further reading

To read further about Thomas Edison’s approach to innovation and the Menlo Park research organisation, see a delightful and informative book on innovation: ‘Innovation – a very short introduction’ by Mark Dodgson and David Gann, published by Oxford University Press.

For more information on the AXA Ireland case study and effective approaches to innovation in knowledge intensive service firms  see ‘Innovating professional services – transforming value and efficiency’ published by Gower. https://www.routledge.com/products/9781472427915

For a case study on law firm re-engineering see: http://www.codexx.com/2015/a-story-of-law-firm-re-engineering-people-processes-profit/

 

Energizing Change

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