It’s hard to talk about failure, especially when it comes to the shortcomings. But three panelists at an ILTA 2014 session titled “It’s a Failure Party! How to Celebrate These Learning Opportunities” shared their stories of failure.

Scott Reid, director of KM innovation at Littler Mendelson started things off by talking about a needs assessment survey his firm sent to customers. He thought it was a failure because “we didn’t know what we didn’t know.” He also said that issuing a survey as a way of communicating is not the best idea. And third, he said they hurt some feelings and damaged some relationships in way they could have and should have prevented. Lessons learned were “do your relationship homework. Do your best to nurture relationships. And don’t just communicate electronically,” he said.

Rachelle Rennagel, director of practice technology and eDiscovery counsel for Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler talked about her failures in the form of a new software deployment her form handled. They spent a year and a lot of money trying to get the software to deploy successfully, but it just wouldn’t happen. So Rennagel made the decision to pull the plus. So what were her takeaways from this failure? “First off, we didn’t do a proof of concept,” she said. “The other thing I took away was the attorney expectations and my expectations. I think my expectations were too high…and I may have overcomplicated it.” Finally, Rennagel said she could have been more patient in managing everyone’s expectations better – hers, the attorneys’ and the IT teams’ expectations.

Rennagel shared another example where her firm decided to embrace legal project management (LPM). They had clients, consultants, and many attorneys in the room to talk about a process. But no matter what, it just wouldn’t take. So she had to take a good, hard look at her company’s culture. Appreciating the organization’s velocity of change is critical, Rennagel said. Now that she has embraced that concept, LPM is alive and well at her firm.

In summary, build small wins as a way to avoid failure, said Rennagel. And always respect process so blame can’t be placed. “That way, if it fails, it fails,” she concluded.

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