A (Very) Brief Introduction to Kanban

The purpose of a Kanban system is to create a visual representation of a workflow that ultimately improves the quality and percentage of tasks completed, minimizes waste, and highlights areas where a process can be improved.

Image obtained from “Kanban Reference Guide and Learning Center”

A Kanban board is segmented into derivations of three basic columns, called “lanes”: (1) To Do; (2) Doing; (3) Done. The lanes can be renamed to fit the needs of the project. To learn more about Kanban, I encourage you to visit everydaykanban.com.

Managing My Workflow

Using the principles above, I created a Kanban board to track my own workflow. The great thing about a Kanban system is that it can be tailored to the needs of any project or organization. The goals for my system were to keep my teams:

  1. On track ensure that tasks are completed on time; minimize the work in process; understand the dependencies of each task;
  2. Organized inform everyone about which tasks are due, overdue, and done; who is responsible for each task; which phase or phases of our project we are in;
  3. Empowered reduce the number of instances where team members feel overwhelmed; promote work satisfaction and morale;
  4. Motivated create a drive to perform, and pride in accomplishing a goal; and
  5. Accountable create a sense of ownership of a task and responsibility to the team
My kanban board

At first, this seemed like a lofty goal for one white board and a few (dozen) sticky notes. However, I put every detail of this board to work so that each aspect contributes to my overall goals. Through this system of lanes, name tags, due dates, and red flags, my team is:

  1. On track because we can easily keep track of where each task is in the workflow, and are continually reminded to reduce our work in process. If there are too many sticky notes in one of the “work in process” lanes, we know that we need to stop, ask ourselves why tasks are building up, and finish a task before starting another one.
  2. Organized because if a team member has a question about what he or she is responsible for, what is coming up due or is overdue, or how close we are to meeting our goal, they know exactly where to look. This avoids confusion, rework, and incomplete assignments.
  3. Empowered because when tasks are presented as a numbered list, or, worse yet, verbally rained-down on a team member all at once, completing a project can feel overwhelming. However, when tasks are presented as pieces of an overall workflow, with separate team members accountable for each task, team members feel more relaxed and empowered to complete their assignments well and on time.
  4. Motivated because as the General Counsel for VillageMD, Wendy Rubas, said during her visit to LegalRnD, “Data triggers people.” Team members can physically see that they are behind on their goal, and are spurred to drive the numbers up. When the goal is met, it allows us to pause and have a moment of celebration and pride for accomplishing a goal. This also tells us it’s time to set new, more ambitious goals.
  5. Accountable because a team member sees his or her name and a due date on a card in one of the “work in process” lanes, and he or she knows that if it is not completed on time, it will receive a red flag. At the next meeting, that team member is asked to explain why something was not completed on time. This is not done as punishment. Rather, it is used to determine how we, as a team, can improve our process so that delays and bottlenecks in work are minimized.

In the future, I may look to an online Kanban platform such as Trello or Leankit to help manage multiple projects or dispersed team members. For now, though, I am very pleased with how I have been able to adapt the Kanban methodology to my organization. I look forward to exploring other project management and process improvement tools in the future.

I am three months into a year-long fellowship with LegalRnD—The Center for Legal Services Innovation at MSU College of Law. I could not be happier with my decision to pursue this as my first job out of law school. I came to law school with a background in chemistry, and, though I chose not to pursue science as a profession, I was inspired by the idea of improving legal-service delivery using scientific methods and a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach. With this blog, I hope to illustrate some of the many ways in which LegalRnD is using these principles to re-engineer legal-service delivery, and how I am using them to become a more successful leader.

How LegalRnD is Training 21st Century Lawyers

If you’re reading this blog, you have may have seen Above the Law’s article declaring that “Michigan State College of Law ranks number one.” MSU Law and LegalRnD earned such high praise in part because LegalRnD is dedicated to training 21st Century, T-Shaped lawyers, as described by MSU Law alumna R. Amani Smathers.

Twentieth-century lawyers prided themselves on, and were valued for, their deep legal expertise. In the technology-driven 21st century, clients demand more—and the T-shaped lawyer is better equipped to provide it.” –R. Amani Smathers, The 21st Century T-Shaped Lawyer

20th Century, I-Shaped lawyers had deep legal expertise, but little training in other disciplines. In 2017, clients demand more from their lawyers. Deep legal knowledge must be supplemented by a working knowledge of such disciplines as technology, business, data analytics, data privacy, process improvement, and project management in order to better serve clients and ensure thriving practices. Because LegalRnD is teaching these “top of the ‘T’” skills, its alumni are better equipped not only to face the challenges of an evolving legal industry, but also to be leaders in the 21st century.

Curriculum

LegalRnD offers a full curriculum of classes focused on improving legal-service delivery through a people-process-technology approach. This includes Delivering Legal Services: New Legal Landscape, where Professor Ken Grady  employs a tactile approach to teaching such skills as Design Thinking and process mapping.

Students prototyping in Professor Grady’s Delivering Legal Services class.

Another student favorite is Quantitative Analysis for Lawyers, where Professor and Director of LegalRnD, Dan Linna, introduces students to various modes of quantitative thinking for data-driven law practice. Students learn data analysis tools like Excel and are introduced to Python, Jupyter Notebook, and Tableau. The course includes several hands-on exercises that illustrate the possibilities for data-analytics. A primary goal is to demystify tools like expert systems and artificial intelligence so that students can recognize how they can be used to not only become more efficient but also to produce greater value and obtain better outcomes for clients.

Research Projects

Bolstered by Professor Linna’s idea that law schools should be used as labs for innovation, LegalRnD also provides opportunities for students to conduct research and development and, in many cases, work with outside clients to transform the delivery of legal services.

Events

Finally, students are continuously exposed to new ideas and opportunities to innovate through LegalRnD’s diverse co-curricular workshops, speaker series, conferences, and hackathons.

Research, Development, and Events Currently Underway at LegalRnD

Research & Development

The research projects conducted at LegalRnD are more than academic exercises. Students work in the field to help create more efficient legal organizations, close the access-to-justice gap, and innovate in ways that are user-centric and data-driven. I am currently part of two such ongoing LegalRnD projects:

  • Eviction Diversion Pilot Program–54A District Court, Lansing, Michigan–Chief Judge Louise Alderson contacted LegalRnD with an idea for a project: implement an eviction diversion pilot program in her court and gather outcome data to improve and assess the program. This is a perfect opportunity for the two students, Nick Gamber and Drew Sanders, who are working with Professor Linna and me on this project to apply several LegalRnD core competencies: project management, process improvement, empirical research, and data analysis. I am excited to share more in the future about this process.
Working with Margaret Hagan at 54A District Court in Lansing.
  • SOLID Collaborative Innovation–At the SOLID Summit in September, Professor Linna and other members of the legal community formed a workgroup with a goal in mind: to create a framework for innovation in the legal industry. Tying in the idea of law schools as labs for innovation, several students are now working on projects with outside clients. Students Anita Western, Joe Mullin, and Matt Gardner are working with Professor Linna on an “Internet of Things” project with Maya Markovich from Dentons’ NextLawLabs, Milos Kresojevic from Freshfields, and Dennis Kennedy from Mastercard. Students Danielle Chirdon and Justin Evans are working with Professor Linna on a blockchain project with Lisa Bryzcki from Northwestern Mutual, and Kate Simpson from Bennett Jones LLP, with focuses ranging from change management, to Internet of Things and Blockchain.

Events

So far this year, we have had the privilege of hosting amazing professionals for lunchtime and evening presentations. We have many more planned for the coming year:

  • Amani Smathers, MSU Law alumna and Legal Solutions Architect at DWT De Novo, kicked off the semester with a lunchtime talk on what it means to be T-Shaped, and the skills and technology employed by modern lawyers.

    Brian Kuhn speaks at MSU Law
  • Brian Kuhn, Co-creator and Global Co-leader of IBM Watson Legal, spent the day at MSU Law, engaging in a prototyping session with Professor Linna’s Quantitative Analysis class, and demystified artificial intelligence during his presentation on IBM Watson’s transformation of how legal work is performed.
  • Several MSU Law students attended the Chicago Legal Innovation Meetup on September 30, where they had the opportunity to network and listen to presentations of several thought leaders in the legal innovation space.
  • On October 11, LegalRnD hosted Craig Glidden, the General Counsel for General Motors, who discussed the evolution of corporate legal departments, including technology’s role in that transformation.
  • On October 17, the Honigman law firm ran its periodic value initiative meeting live from LegalRnD. Students had the benefit of seeing how the firm conducts its value meeting. Additionally, because Honigman had graciously included LegalRnD student presentations in its agenda, attendees also got to hear about some of the research projects underway at MSU Law.
Legal Hack Chicago Innovation Meetup
  • On October 19, several students and MSU Law alumni attended the Fin(Legal)Tech conference hosted by Illinois Tech–Chicago-Kent College of Law. The many enlightening presentations included themes on how to learn from the finance industry’s past to improve the legal industry’s future.
  • On November 5, Pamela Morgan, Founder of Third Key Solutions, will be leading a weekend workshop on Bitcoin, blockchain, and smart contracts.
  • On November 6, Wendy Rubas, General Counsel for Village MD, will be giving a lunchtime talk on data-driven law practices and leading theQuantitative Analysis class in a data exercise.
  • In February, Margaret Hagan, Director of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford, will be leading a design thinking workshop and giving a lunchtime talk.

One of our goals at LegalRnD is to expose our students to the main ways to get engaged in the legal industry, leveraging innovation and technology to improve legal-service delivery. We’re thrilled to present so many such opportunities to our students, and I’m grateful to be a part of these activities. I look forward to further discussing these projects as they develop.