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The Weekly Planning Meeting

improve your productivity kanban for lawyers legal process improvement Sep 07, 2021

One of the common Agile practices I implement with my clients is the weekly planning meeting. For the ones who are using Kanban Boards (which, let's face it, is pretty much all of 'em) we tend to call it the Monday Move Up.

Why the "move up?" Because the way I design kanban boards there are usually three swimlanes (horizontal rows) across the board:

  1. The "Hot Lane" goes on top,
  2. The "Normal Work" lane in the middle, and
  3. The "Cool Lane" or "Back Burner" does down below.

The columns on the board represent the phases of the matter (Intake, Research, Drafting, etc.) and the cards on the board represent matters in the practice.

The purpose of the Weekly Planning Meeting (which doesn't necessarily need to happen on Monday) is to establish which matters absolutely positively need attention this week. The cards for that matter get moved up to the hot lane, and some notes and/or markers go on the card itself to identify what tasks need to be completed so that the matter is no longer "hot."

Matters that can't possibly be worked on this week (usually because they're waiting on client homework or some other outside resource) get moved down to the Cold Lane (or Back Burner), along with an indicator of what we're waiting for.

Everything else stays in the Normal Work lane: These matters are ready and available for attention, but aren't as urgent as the Hot Lane items. (I used to call this the "warm lane," but a funny thing happened on some teams where they felt like they were only allowed to work on a matter when it was in the hot lane, so they'd move things up that they wanted to work on. I switched to calling it the "normal work" lane in an attempt to normalize normal work.)

What if you're using kanban software that doesn't support swimlanes (*cough* Trello *cough*)? You can achieve a similar effect by creating a sticker or card token to indicate that a particular card is "hot" or "cold" that week. Hot items should also bubble up to the top of their respective columns, and cold ones should sink down accordingly.

And if you're not using kanban at all, developing a hot list instead of a hot lane can accomplish largely the same thing. You'll miss out on the visual nature of the overall workflow, but still get that sense of priorities for the week.

Benefits of The Weekly Planning Meeting for Legal Teams

The move up meeting accomplishes a few things, especially when coupled with other Agile rituals.

The first, and most obvious, is that it sets the tone for the week. I prefer to have the entire team involved in this meeting, especially at first, because it helps get information out of people's heads and into a common, visible location. In the process, it builds a team-wide understanding of—and commitment to—the firm's priorities for that week. Not everything that needs work will necessarily go into the Hot Lane (or on to the hot list)

It also helps the team daylight assumptions and figure out whether they have everything they need to get those high-priority matters taken care of. To the extent that there are differences of opinion about what to prioritize or how to get the work done, better to sort them out at the beginning of the week than to have surprises later.

When book-ended by a weekly review meeting (sometimes on Fridays, sometimes just the first part of next week's planning), this process also creates a helpful feedback loop for the team to gauge their effectiveness and validate assumptions. Ideally the hot lane should be empty by the time the review meeting rolls around. If not, let's spend a minute figuring out why. Did we overestimate our capacity? Did we spend too much time on work that wasn't hot? Did we make mistakes in identifying hot matters? Closing the loop helps build awareness and starts to engender more useful behaviors going forward.

And when practiced alongside daily standup meetings, the high-priority matters provide both a guidepost for daily commitments and a ballast against letting lower-priority work worm its way into our attention spans before the truly important stuff is taken care of (especially that shiny new stuff that's always hard to resist).

All of this is in service to a couple of my core concepts for an Agile legal practice: The honest reckoning of capacity and its harsher twin, the brutal assessment of priority. Because recognizing that you can't possibly accomplish all of the things is challenging enough, but deciding which things to drop is harder still.

Of course these concepts aren't unique to Agile. In fact, a quick shout out to Melissa Shanahan at Velocity Work who talks about the same ideas in her awesomely branded "Monday Map" and "Friday Wrap" sessions (yes, technically we're competitors, but whatever, she's great.)

The point is that the old adages are still true: the ounce of prevention over the pound of cure, the failure to plan as planning to fail, sharpening the axe as the essential first step to cutting a tree. But human nature being what it is, we need constant reminders of these things. So bake weekly planning into your regular cadence, and block it on your calendars. You may not get quite so many things done in the weeks that you take a few minutes to plan, but you'll be a whole lot better about finishing the things that truly matter.




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