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Improving internal efficiency

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The LexisPSL Local Government team provide a checklist for a continuous improvement model in the context of contemplating the delivery of shared legal services.

The concept of obtaining more for less is not controversial but creation and implementation of a strategy to drive internal efficiency can be, unless fully focused and clear.

There are a number of continuous improvement models recommended by management consultants.

The checklist below summarises the most simple to use in the context of contemplating the delivery of shared legal services. It is known as the DMAIC model and requires a sequential analysis of each of five stages:

● define or identify the area for improvement;
● measure;
● analyse;
● improve;
● control.

This process will need to be repeated in relation to each area for improvement. It is sensible to prioritise analysis of the key performance indicators (KPIs) for a legal department, for example the core KPI of any legal department is the delivery of legal services. When arranging shared legal services previously provided by a number of different legal departments, an immediate efficiency saving may be the adoption of common working practices.

Remember that the tool is adaptable to fit any process and there are no constraints on how it can be used.

 Step  What does this step involve?  Why it is important
 Define (identify) Identify what the issue or problem is. The scope of the problem needs to be defined and the symptoms stated clearly and succinctly.

The problem may not be cast in stone at this point; you may have defined what you believe the problem to be but once you have complete steps 2 and 3 the 'problem' may need to be redefined.

For example, you may start by defining the problem as being: “we currently use too many different processes to achieve the same objective”. After measuring and analysing the problem this might be restated as: “we need to create new internal best practice guidance”. 

It will give the project a clear focus and enable to you explain to everyone exactly what you hope to achieve.

Measure

Measure the cost and effect of the problem.

Typical questions you need to be asking during this stage to understand the issues around the working practices are:

● how many protocols are in place and how closely are they adhered to?
● how many precedents and are there and which precedents are most frequently used?
● how many different legal know how providers do we have?
● what acknowledged experts do we have?
● what is the consequence of the variance in procedures?
● how much time and money can we save by streamlining our working practices?

 

You may also reach an incorrect conclusion about what the cause of the problem is or the problem may be bigger, or smaller, than you have imagined.
 Analyse

Once you have all the data from your measurements you can then get to the heart of the problem.

During this stage you will pinpoint the bottlenecks that give rise to duplication of resources. 

You need to consider and test theories about the causes of the problem you are seeing and focus on the main root cause or causes.

You also need to establish the priorities as it is unlikely you will be able to change everything at once.

 Improve

 During this stage, several sequential activities need to be performed:
● generate ideas for resolving the issues identified;
● evaluate the alternatives to determine the best route forwards;
● design improvements taking into account resources and training requirements;
● identify how you will get people engaged and enthused about the new process;
● prove it works by running a pilot or simulation;
● implement the new process according to your project plan.

When evaluating different possible solutions the costs of the solutions need to be compared to the costs of the problem in order to establish a robust business case.

The key factors in this stage are creativity and feasibility, i.e. generating a range of possible solutions and then evaluating them to determine the best route forwards.

Try to involve a number of people when generating possible solutions to give yourself a broad span of ideas and creative solutions and maximise the prospects of your staff accepting any process changes.

 Control

This stage is all about embedding the new processes so they become business as usual.

This may include monitoring the process more closely for a time and providing additional support and training as and when required.

It may also be advisable, depending on the size of the new process, to include it within appraisal criteria, so its importance is understood by all employees. 

During this stage you need to re-measure the process so you can compare the data to the measurements taken earlier in the project and establish whether or not it is delivering the desired and anticipated improvements.

It is a good idea to make all measurement data as transparent and public as possible, so far as confidentiality allows, in order for employees to see the difference the new process has made.


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LDOF Supplement Front CoverThis article appeared in the Legal Department of the Future report, published in February 2016. To read or download the full report, please click on the following link: http://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/ldotf/