Though my business partner/spouse and I are organized people, employees have not always proven themselves to be. We have hired many employees for their first professional job and, although habits they had in college may have worked well for them when they were only concerned with their own individual performance, we have often seen the need to help them learn to work as part of a team. While keeping track of the many parts of the process from the time we are hired by an attorney on a case, through the completion of our report and shipping it to the client is second nature to the two of us, this has not been the case overall. Part of the challenge in any workplace is that different employees are responsible for different, but interdependent tasks. One problem some employees have had is to comprehend how the tasks they have impact everyone else. To me, our work involves a sort of relay race where the baton passes, sometimes quickly, between team members. And, because we are usually handling multiple cases simultaneously, each with its own time table, keeping the baton in motion is challenging. The solutions have been several, but the most important one has been the development and use of a Case Task Sheet which outlines the most critical steps (baton transferring steps) involved in our various research methodology. Not all cases involve the same methodology so the steps are not always the same, but the need to keep everyone working with the critical steps and deadlines in mind is crucial to providing high quality service to clients. And, because the “big picture” is important, the use of a multi-month wall calendar has been helpful in literally visualizing upcoming work. These are rather low tech means of project management, but they work to ensure that everyone is truly on the same page.
I know what I am doing, at all times, on all cases for which my company and I have been retained. But, knowing what I am doing does not mean others know what they are doing! Realizing this, I have taken numerous steps to communicate with employees exactly what they are supposed to do on every project on which we are working. Often, I am in a waiting mode while an employee performs a task required for me to be able to perform mine. For example, we conduct social psychological research, often involving data collection in the form of surveys. I assign the data collection to someone, the data entry to someone else, then I perform the data analyses on which I base my recommendations for trial strategy to our clients. We are always working with court imposed deadlines, such as trial dates, and the clients are always eager to have their report sooner rather than later, such that it is essential for me to develop a time line for each case, with deadlines for the performance of each required task, so that the employees know exactly what is expected of them on every case. Because we are usually working on more than one case at a time, there are overlapping deadlines across cases. The Case Task Sheet has morphed over the years of its existence to be a fail safe means of providing all staff with crucial information regarding deadlines, along with more traditional means, such as emails and staff meetings. In our company, there is never a good excuse for not knowing what is going on.
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