Rather than wait for it, Microsoft’s legal team has decided to create what it needs, starting now.
Innovation is taking place in many parts of the legal ecosystem these days. Yet, as relates to legal operations inside corporate legal departments, a refreshing community of practice is starting to unfold. The camaraderie and fellowship among practitioners, whether they be lawyers or skilled allied professionals, is more intimate and fun-loving than in other legal environments. Many factors could potentially explain this vibrant, encouraging atmosphere, including the fact that corporate legal departments don’t directly compete with each other and thus have no fear that they’re giving away competitive business advantage. But let me suggest another: Legal operations professionals feel they are making real progress on challenging problems that affect the entire legal industry. If camaraderie and closeness are a function of progress rather than lack of competition, then it’s possible that the party could get much bigger. In essence, this is the core idea behind Microsoft’s Trusted Advisor Forum, which brings together members of the Microsoft Legal department with the company’s most value law firms and service providers. Last fall, Bill Henderson and Jae Um chronicled this remarkable ongoing experiment. See Post 068, Post 069. For the June 2019 Trusted Advisor Forum, the task fell to me. As discussed in greater length below, this year’s topic was Business Design Thinking (emphasis intended) mixed with Lean techniques.
Microsoft’s Trusted Advisor ForumThe Forum is an ambitious initiative which propels the interests of Microsoft forward (both the wider corporation and legal function) by hitching a wagon to its key legal service providers that comprise their Strategic Partner Program (SPP). The attendees in prior years included a number of corporate legal department colleagues from the likes of Adobe, Amazon, American Airlines, Fedex, Glaxo-Smith-Kline, Intel, Liberty Mutual, Starbucks, T-Mobile and others. To be clear, Microsoft does not wish to be the sole arbiter of how law firm and client relationships rock and roll. Given the format for this year, Microsoft was able to include a larger representative sample of professionals within the legal department with a very good mix of practicing lawyers and other professionals that support legal teams – both internally and from the firms. However, there were no other corporates invited to this iteration as the hope was to have a working session imbued with candor among internal Microsoft people and outside counsel. In retrospect, it is likely that other corporates would have benefited, and the candor would have been no less prevalent. For this year’s event, all of the SPP firms were invited. The firms that were present included: Davis Wright Tremaine, Perkins Coie, Orrick, Sidley, Reed Smith, Fish & Richardson, Arent Fox, K&L Gates, Covington and Merchant & Gould. A few other players were in the room, including Integreon. In the past, an initiative like this would have meant law firms exclusively, but Microsoft has also led with its use of ancillary providers, such as Integreon. See, e.g., Bob Ambrogi, “10-Year Relationship Between Microsoft and Integreon Underscores Role of LPOs in Legal,” LawSites, June, 5, 2019. Notice that I did not say “alternative” legal supplier when talking about Integreon? There’s a couple of reasons for that. First, if you’ve been in partnership for 10 years, that’s not alternative. They’ve passed the audition to mainstream and pretty soon will have a greatest hits collection. Most new businesses (and bands) don’t last as long.
Audacious goalsAmong the highly visible outputs and aspirations from the Strategic Partner Program is a declaration in 2017 to move to 90% AFA’s within two years — a BHAG designed to stimulate activity. See Jim Collins & Jerry Porras, “Build to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” (1994) (coining the term big hairy audacious goals, or BHAG). Last year’s Forum required presentations from invited strategic partners to inform the group about one thing they had done in the prior year to get better; and also one thing they would try to do next year to get better. That’s it. Hardly any BHAG points on that one. And yet, curiously, only some of the invited partners attended and of those that attended only some fulfilled one or both of those requirements. See Post 069 (Jae Um’s observation from 2018). This is notwithstanding a pretty safe space for communication and experimentation. What makes this ever the more baffling, law firms are often saddled with cries of despair from their clients concerning a vague ennui in the form of missing “innovation.” This was a chance for differentiation through specific real-world case studies. Arguably, Microsoft’s internal team learned something from the experience, as this year’s event was more rooted in the “How” rather than the “Why” or “What.” In other words, how do we drive results and change that is meaningful from a business perspective? We can all hum a tune, but it takes some effort to learn the chords. This led to a decision to pursue Business Design Thinking mixed with Lean techniques to provide a great set of tools, models, frameworks and of course, the mindset, for reimagining and driving continuous improvement for operations.
Bold Duck StudioMicrosoft partnered with my pals and fellow workshop facilitating tour act — Bold Duck Studio — comprised of industry veterans Joshua Kubicki and Kim Craig . The mission was to deliver a full-day workshop including internal legal department and business unit clients plus outside legal service provider partners. Really, though, the purpose of workshops, when done right, is to leave people changed from when they first entered the room, which is possible when the facilitators are masters at engagement. In the best scenarios, attendees leave knowing “You can’t unhear, unknow, unsee, unlearn what you felt, touched, heard and saw. While some of it may dissipate, residuals of those key personal and community interactions should stick permanently.” This happened in Redmond, but it isn’t easy to convey in a blog post. No matter, I am willing to step up to the mic. I love workshops, and especially putting them on for profit where people feel like they get value from the experience. Making a room full of people see things differently (and feel good about it) is rewarding on multiple levels. For a day or so. What happens when they go back to their desk? The measure of success is to apply knowledge, tools and methods to our work for better outcomes which manifest months down the line. The approach of Bold Duck is a blend of business design + lean + strategy. They call it Practice Venturing or sometimes Service Venturing. Personally, I see it as just good business methodology that has enough of a static framework to be easily understood but provides for pliable adjustments depending on context. These are business skills and modalities and I would note that it’s not called “Legal” Practice Venturing although applied to legal. I see myself as a double guitar dabbler of Josh’s design expertise and Kim’s strengths and experience in lean. I know enough about both in application to be a little bit dangerous. As a multi-instrumentalist figuring out how to play the instruments, mostly on my own, I am thrilled when I get the chance to learn with others that I respect, admire and enjoy. The stated purpose and desired outcomes of this year’s Forum include:
- Deep dives on the relationship among people, process, technology, and experience and how these create user-oriented solutions;
- Application of the Practice Venture (Service) Blueprint – a tool that helps describe current-state and options for new service and solution models; and
- Application of the material to begin designing pilot(s) that redesign on-going work.
Our senior leadership wants digital transformation. Most of our legal professionals do not know how to execute on that ask because we have not trained them how. They think it involves acquiring a new technical skill, and for some, it may. But the primary gap is people’s inability to describe the current state of what we do and design an optimized version. We believe that process and design skills are necessary to advance digital transformation because these will give us high ROI investment targets defined by the expert legal professionals who do the work and know what has value.
A Little Less Conversation and A Little More ActionThe Forum offered a way for all the requisite players to stop talking past each other and roll up sleeves on an intensive learning experience from dynamic practitioners in the field. The hallmark of a good workshop is utilizing case studies and fact patterns to make it real, immersive and experiential for the audience. Too often, because the audience is so disparate in interest, even when it’s an internal organization, the case studies are overly hypothetical, or perhaps unduly complex or unnecessarily or impractically simple. It’s really only helpful if you can make concepts relevant to your own everyday work. In the case of this particular workshop, there were three suggested hypotheticals provided to the 70(ish) participants, plus a fourth (outlier) I discuss further below.
Easy as 1-2-3
Bonus Track Real World | Real Challenges | Real Human ConsequencesAn additional “case study” didn’t need a hypothetical. The immigration group at Microsoft faces some real-world workflow challenges that have material consequences calling out for Business Design Thinking and heaping helpings of (genuine) empathy and human centeredness. They receive hundreds of thousands of emails per year in respect of the thousands of foreign nationals that work on behalf of the company, all seeking to follow up on their status in relation to work permits, visas and other important processes and documents that ensure that the workers and their families are in compliance. For reasons that should be obvious, there is a higher than normal anxiety around immigration issues, even in the technology sector, and an enormous amount is riding on this for the humans involved. That anxiety drives a lot of questions, rational and otherwise, in relation to each respective case. Nobody can be faulted if they continue to chase and navigate around a fear of internal systems of bureaucracy, lost in ‘black hole sun’ emails, digital portals and self help tools. We would all like to look in the eyes of an actual person when seeking responses to questions that greatly matter. The truth is however, you cannot have an in-person meeting for every touchpoint when there are thousands of others to consider. Yet, an exclusively digital approach is not acceptable either. So those are the four case studies. The task of Bold Duck Studios is to supply the workshop participants with frameworks, tools and methodologies to break them down and make them solvable.
How to Solve All Wicked Problems Post-It Notes, Sharpies and Whiteboards
Business Design Thinking is the way forwardJosh gave a brief overview of design and the cradle of that civilization referencing back to Bauhaus, the famous German art school of the early 20th century. It was excellent and informative, particularly as a primer for audience of practitioner getting ready to apply these ideas in workshop. However, I want to take this opportunity to provide context for what is a very heavy lift for the many lawyers and allied professionals who are heading down this path. To my mind, the ideas and elements that comprise business design thinking are best exemplified through the granddaddy of functional design, Dieter Rams, whose legendary 10 design principles drive towards #lessbutbetter. A fascinating documentary on vimeo demonstrates his profound influence through iconic product designs whilst at Braun. There could be no Jony Ive or Apple magic without having built on the shoulder of this giant who, among other things, gave us the inspiration for the original rotating wheel on the iPhone from a radio developed years earlier. In fact, Braun and Rams influenced a lot of Apple and therefore design writ large and even into Business Design. The history of design is in itself a fascinating topic. Of course, for most of us, it’s the ascendance of Apple and in particular the iPod followed by the iPhone and iPad that brings to mind what it is to have elegant and useful experiences from objects and workflows that we handle each and every day.
“Legal” Design Thinking Is Not A ThingIn parts of the market, the term “Legal” Design Thinking has slipped into the parlance in a big way. This is such a disservice on so many levels. We don’t need “Legal” Design Thinking as a label any more than you would put the words common sense subsequent to the word “legal.” There is no such thing and frankly no authority to put “legal” in front of any concept which has significantly serviced other parts of the commercial, social, and public sectors for a considerable amount of time with proven results. It is a label of marketing or heuristic convenience just as “Lean for Legal” or “Legal” Project Management are nonsense in the way that “alternative” is a nonsense way to describe Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Regrettably, there is very little in the way of bona fides credentialization of “Legal” Design Thinkers. You really do have to make a difference that is understood by others in order to credibly make the proven claim that life is now better as a result. Screaming about “Creativity!” in overly exuberant digital click funnel drip campaigns is not #lessbutbetter. It’s actually #morebutworse. To be clear, Josh and Kim committed none of these sins. What made this workshop “legal” was the composition of the audience.
Path To Business DesignThe idea of Business Design Thinking owes its existence to a collaboration between corporate America and academia. Personally, I’ve loved my interactions and the happy accident of living in Toronto which until recently is where Roger Martin, the Godfather of Business Design, was based via the Rotman School of Business. Examples of Business Design outcomes in the public domain are plentiful and you can see interesting case studies here. Business Design Thinking has been ardently embraced and utilized by leading companies including Proctor & Gamble, SAP, GE, AirBnB and others for at least 15 to 20 years. There are also a number of world class innovation and design firms, which are agnostic to specific industry and include IDEO, SyPartners, MAYA Design and Ziba Design. In legal, we are starting to see a few niche studios pop up. Yet, their success is destined to be more a function of understanding the lawyer mindset that bringing to bear a different and expanded set of design skills that are “legal” in nature. Let’s dispel some of the misconceptions with a hat tip to Capstera for this articulation. Business Design is NOT:
- Purely about UXD (User Experience Design) even though UXD may be an essential component of the overall business design.
- Purely about Business Architecture, even though components of business architecture may form the structural basis for the former.
- Purely about Strategy, even as strategy is an integral element of business design.
- Only about Design Thinking, even though it is a vital toolkit.
- Design a profitable new product, brand, service, or consumer experience
- Develop a new business model or venture
- Identify and develop innovation roadmaps for existing brands
- Create organizational structures, strategic assets, and operating models to help the company drive its own innovation
- Design, lead, and measure experiments to gather feedback to inspire and improve new concepts
Front Stage, Back Stage + Behind the ScenesIn keeping with the music theme of this post, we have all been to great concerts that we’ve really enjoyed. And to make that experience happen, we can all get our heads around the idea that lots of work was going on backstage and behind the scenes to make it so. The image below vividly convey this story. Like a great musical performance, solving a set of difficult and recurring legal problems involves a tremendous amount of effort, most of which happens outside our line of sight. Further, to be successful in both endeavors, we need to do two things simultaneously: delight the client and control our costs. One of the great innovations of Business Design Thinking is the Service Blueprint, which is depicted in the Bold Duck Studio graphic below: If Process Map + Customer Journey Map = Service Blueprint, we know where to start.
Lean Into Process MapsKim provided some grounding in the fundamentals of lean. To my surprise, however, the majority of the audience was already literate with most of the concepts. Below is a composite of slides that reflect some of the key themes Kim skillfully covered. Having a base of knowledge in an allied discipline is indeed the benefit of a larger corporation given the prevalence of lean in the commercial world for several decades. That said, I find I still walk into law firms where these concepts are completely novel, which is on one hand a good thing because people are going to learn. On the other hand, they are quite behind and these are cultural changes that take years to become successfully imbued into a company’s DNA. No one would know this better than Kim who deserves the title of pioneer rock star in legal for the yeoman’s work she did at Seyfarth prior to joining Josh at Bold Duck. The lean content, as it often does, led to a very lively process mapping session at each of the tables. With most of the room tackling the third hypothetical, I sat in with the outlier group going after the processes related to the immigration process challenge. Given the sensitive nature of the process, it’s not for me to relay their “as is” or “to be” states, but I can comment on the observable benefits of going through the exercise in the workshop.
- The group included the specific team members from various levels in the organization that actually live this day in and day out. It also included a few outside providers, some that are involved and some that are not.
- Overwhelm sets in pretty quickly when you start to consider all of the iterations of “if/then” decision points and of course, waste reveals itself pretty quickly when there are multiple handoffs rather than carriage by singular individuals or small teams for the duration of a lifecycle.
- All of the benefits of process mapping became readily apparent, very quickly and this is the foundation to the broader build of a blueprint for the “future state.”
Customer Journey MapsWhen designing a new product or process, is efficiency the sole goal? Kim and Josh answer this question by asking participants to think of Starbucks, which is a wonder from the process and customer experience perspective. On the one hand, financial success requires getting coffee into the hands of the clients, ostensibly as efficiently as possible. The supply chain itself boggles the mind. But Starbucks is also modelled on client experience after the European coffee culture. The standard of writing a person’s name on the cup (often delightfully misspelled) can and sometimes is streamlined to simply be a printout on a label. You would likely find that clients prefer to have the handwritten version, even though it makes for longer wait times. They like to see their name printed, sometimes with little hearts and Jason spelled “Jaissen”. Starbucks does not want to sell you a cup of coffee to drink. They want you to experience a cup of coffee. Accordingly, they’ve had a focus on Atmosphere, Quality Coffee, Customer Service, and Partner (employee) Satisfaction. When bundled together, they add up to something that can justify a premium price. Below is a composite of slides that help Kim and Josh make the subtle point that efficiency has to give way to the customer experience. To get these tradeoffs right, Bold Duck introduced the workshop to the concept of a Journey Map. (For a more detailed primer on this important topic, see Megan Erin Miller, “The difference between a journey map and a service blueprint,” Practical Service Design, Mar. 9, 2016. A Journey Map captures primary experiences from the customer point of view. Returning our music metaphor, it is the front stage of the service experience. In creating a Journey Map, you use customer narratives and data to plot experience over a time period. A proper map will capture what the client does, thinks and feels and the touchpoints and artifacts of their ‘journey’. Typically, a Journey Map is an amalgamated representation of experiences in the aggregate, compiled from customer research and the knowledge of subject-matter experts in the organization. Below is an example of a journey map that reflects something we have all done — online shopping. In the real world, a Journey Map takes time and effort and is completed via interviews and mining for insights, patterns and trends. Other data related to the customer experience also informs the map. Beyond capturing the current experience, journey mapping also helps with design of the future state of the experience. Journey mapping builds empathy and gives direction regarding areas of the experience to improve or further investigate. Like all maps, it is not the actual territory and is just a representation that guides. There is nothing “Legal” or “Alternative” about any of this and it can all be applied in a commercial environment as well as others. Typically you would see a Journey Map tackle the front and back-stage elements. But for the purposes of this workshop, leveraging the process maps is a suitable proxy to evidence the reality of “as is” current state. Of course, building a proper Journey Map takes more time than can be contained in a few hours at a workshop, but a nice quick hack is to take the process maps and apply emoji’s (sigh—forever in Jae’s sparkly shadow) to those critical moments that are most important to the customer of the process. That is the exact exercise that was applied during the Forum. In the immigration scenario, it’s those instances where clients can get a clear communication of the status of their case and what is further required to move forward and with a best educated guess, when the process will be completed with the desired result. That may require a dialogue in some instances rather than an electronic exchange inherent with lags and asynchronous communication. It’s a fundamental pillar for the business which impacts talent retention and of course — accessing that talent in the first place. Taken in that context, while there was a mixed bag of problems being tackled, the exercises were applied the same throughout with similar insights. In most instances, work is likely to continue and projects will be launched.
B Sides and RaritiesA few other exercises of note took place, some as individual tasks with selected read outs to the broader group. Prizes were provided to elicit volunteers. Free software! Just kidding. Cool nerdlinger books. The energy in the room was pretty high, so it wasn’t hard to have people come forward. As I continue to be permitted to carry my laminated backstage pass, I’ve found that Microsoft is very serious about the concept of psychological safety — meaning people are encouraged to bring ideas forward and speak their minds. Cf. Post 068 (highlighting Jason Barnwell’s commitment). Each participant was asked to complete a worksheet highlighting integration experiences that stand out from the last 3-5 years, either positively or negatively. For example, how were you onboarded into your most recent organization, role or team? Thinking five years ahead, participants were then asked to predict what would be the one or two new concepts or models regarding integration of new people, teams, or businesses? Will this topic even be a focus, or will it be overlooked? Fair to say, this will always be a topic of importance, especially as work teams become even more dispersed geographically.
Culture ClubA final question from the perspective of individual participants was to consider the legal industry and suggest the biggest barriers to developing an effective integration experience and suggested approaches to create higher value earlier in the process. Participants were then asked to consider influences from outside the legal industry which is particularly important considering the lag in relation to other sectors such as financial services and technology companies. Finally, participants were asked to consider a company that has done a great job of integrating new people into their teams or businesses. Personally, I thought of Netflix and the widespread use of their iconic culture deck which kicked off a major trend. There are now numerous examples. Given that all of these decks are already in the public domain, it serves as an excellent way to level set on expectations for prospective employees, provided the organization is indeed living up to the values set out in the deck.
Trigger WarningThe participants also went through a “Forcefield” exercise which involves reviewing a number of trigger questions and assigning a numerical score on proposed business problems or ideas which can be seen either as advantages or challenges. This is akin to an “effort to impact matrix” with the added emphasis on delineating specifically what forces will work in favor of the proposal versus those that will work against. The typical elements that influence this type of analysis include resource availability, time and tools. Equally important are the intangible elements such as culture, current business practices, attitudes and behaviors. Completing this type of exercise allows for determination as to whether a stated problem has enough support to move forward to solution building, requires refinement, or abandonment. This is also an invitation to develop the strategies required to reduce the impact of the challenges and to strengthen the advantages of moving forward.
Microsoft as Leader of the Pack?In Post 068, which summarized last year’s Trusted Advisor Forum, Bill referenced the Cravath Model of law firms and suggested that that perhaps Microsoft is looking to build the Microsoft model of corporate legal function management. But of course, there is always a predecessor as the blues gave us rock and rap and whatever the kids listen to today. I assume its whatever it is that my wife sings in the car. The DuPont Model has had a tremendous impact on the trajectory of legal operations previously and Microsoft is leaning on. Microsoft is not at all interested in having their model be the model. This is clearly the case as I found when chatting with Microsoft’s Jason Barnwell and Rebecca Benavides.
We are tiny fraction of the legal market. We seek to influence peers and partners to adopt our approaches because we believe it will be better for them, and also better for us because it becomes easier . — Rebecca
Much of what we are doing is built upon the ideas and work of others. And we do know that there are other very large operators who use similar approaches, but do not talk about them. We want to give away our playbook because it is not a competitive advantage for us to hold it close. It has more value when we open source it. — Jason
I would also add that we continue to learn from others and incorporate their approaches into our work. I don’t know that our goal is to influence others so much as it is to develop a community that is engaged in the high-level goals (value, diversity, innovation, tech adoption, etc.), is dedicated to sharing best practices and experiences (good and bad), and is invested in building and experimenting to build better programs, processes, and practices.
Other organizations should probably focus more on adopting the aspirational cultural underpinnings that support our work. Specifically, Growth Mindset, inclusion, and psychological safety. We are still trying to build these for ourselves, but if you get your people and your partners on-board, then the right things will happen because your organization will adapt to challenges and opportunities much, much faster. Our strategy may not work for many organizations because their business needs and resourcing models are different. But the supporting culture should work for any organization that created value for knowledge work.
Our specific law firm engagement strategy builds upon the DuPont model. Their thought leaders were specifically consulted and inform our strategy. I am hesitant to say that there is a “Microsoft” model because we build upon the work of so many others. We employ a hybrid derived from what we learn from academics and practitioners.
To work our company mission statement into this – to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more – this is the empowering part. — Rebecca
That’s a mission worth shooting for, and one to be measured in years to come. Best that it’s done by (business) design rather than default.
Lights Up, Curtains Down: Take a BowIn my experience, it’s not easy to keep the crowd bumpin’ at these types of events, but Bold Duck hit the mark. You also want folks to leave with more than a black metal t-shirt and trucker cap. In terms of next steps for the individual and collective participants of this particular workshop, there’s plenty to work on back at the “desk.” Of course, for the immigration group, they’ve got a tremendous amount of work ahead and a few more tools, frameworks and perspectives to tackle a meaningful challenge which goes right to the heart of the strategic direction of the company. Many of the other groups will also have carry forward items which they can continue to drive. In respect of the Forum at large, this is clearly something that is worth continuing not just for Microsoft but also for its partners that have been given an extraordinary opportunity to get under the hood of a valued client such that avenues of co-creation abound. Final word goes to Rebecca…
It was a fabulous day. I could not have asked for a better session. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that level of engagement here. I feel like people in that room felt like they were part of something beyond the one day training.Well done one and all — and thank you you Kim, Josh, Jason and Rebecca for inviting me and Bill for letting me karaoke on his platform. Thanks also to the dear readers for tolerating my Lester Bangs / Hunter S. Thompson style of writing. There is no fear or loathing involved. The Forum is a great engagement approach and important and transformational work is taking place.