The Process: The Agile Attorney, Part 2

Yesterday I gave you a rant about why I think John Grant is so great. But I wasn’t very specific. Today let me give you a window into what we accomplished together.


If you’ve been around me at all, you know I have a bit of a mantra, stolen from the world of supply chain management: Design, Source, Build, Deliver.

Those four words define what a supply chain manager does, but more broadly it’s a process that anyone creating customer-centric products or services must do.

For reference, “Source” has to do with finding the best experts to create elements of the product; “Build” has to do with quality control; and “Deliver” has to do with creating experiences more valuable than what the customer paid. John and I worked on the first piece, “Design.”

Messy Walls

For John, the process for designing always starts with Post-It Notes. (Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the man slept with Post-It Notes under his pillow, just in case he came up with an idea in the middle of the night.)

Not to get too nerdy, but we used a tool called a Kanban board to help us brain this out. You can look up what that is, but it doesn’t really matter right now. All you need to know is that we took the mass of ideas in my brain, turned them into something visual, slapped them on a wall, and evaluated.

There’s a lot of value to this process. The visual elements help you see things in a new way. And the small space of a Post-It Note helps you focus your idea. It’s like a Twitter post (pre-280 characters), but for the wall.

Eventually, it maps a process for the work you do, and you can track clients along the path you’ve created. It’s honestly the fastest way to figure out how you’ll get your clients what they want, when they want it, all with a great experience.

Definition of Ready

Before you map out a process, you have to know the starting point. This is called the Definition of Ready. It’s the GO space on the board game. You can’t go get the points or buy the buildings until you know where to enter the process. 

John and I were mapping out a particular type of case, so we had to define what has to be true before I start someone’s case. Knowing we’ll also have a process for bringing in the work, we decided these three things have to be true before we do the work:

  1. Client says “You’re hired”
  2. I say “You’re hired”
  3. Client can pay

You can imagine what these three points have accomplished. We’ve basically already done work to decide whether this client is “our people.” We know we have what they want, that they want what we have, and that they see appropriate value.

Now we’re ready to get to work.

The Stepping Stones

As someone familiar with the Kanban board, I know it’s a tool for moving cases along a path. Before we started plugging in any clients, we had to define the stepping stones on that path.

We worked on my simplest product, the Pro Se Assistance plan. It’s basically coaching, form creation, and guided negotiation to help a couple handle their own divorce. I’ve done the legwork to verify clients want it and what it’s worth to them, so John and I mapped the steps to make sure they’re happy and I get them what they want.

There were steps like “Generate Forms” and “Settlement Conference.” We got very granular with it. No skipped steps. And I’ll need to identify who owns each of those steps. Once I add clients to this map, I can see where their cases slow down and who owns the step that’s getting us off track. So a lot of value in being detailed about the steps on your path. They’re very instructive later.

Definition of Done

John never let me just write down the next step in the process. Before we moved on, we had to write out the “Definition of Done.” Basically, this is a checklist of things that must be true before we move to the next thing.

Take the “Intake” step, for example. We defined four things that must be true before moving to generating forms:

  1. Signed engagement letter
  2. Completed intake questionnaire
  3. Initial payment made
  4. Opposing Party contact info obtained

Interestingly, that last one wasn’t part of our initial draft. Only as we talked about later steps did we realize how crucial opposing party buy-in will be in order for this product to work. We added a step in the process, creation of a packet to be delivered to the opposing party.

The packet would include information about the firm, disclosures related to hiring an opposing attorney and a list of lawyers in the area, and an outline of the process. This packet would help the opposing party make decisions, and to feel part of the process. We realized that the other spouse is as crucial to this process as my own client and should be treated that way.

This is the value of defining “done.” By really focusing on what’s needed to move to the next step, you force yourself to really think through what matters.

Next Steps

We mapped out the whole process. It took quite a while. And this was after I had already sat down with a notebook and wrote out what I thought were the necessary steps.

Instead, we came up with a detailed map that listed what we’d deliver, what we’d require, and who were the crucial players. I now know how to deliver a great experience for everyone involved.

For you, the next step is to explore this mapping process. John has written about it a lot on his site, and he’s even working on a book about it. And you can always contact him directly. I gave you his contact info in the bottom of the yesterday‘s post, so check there.

And spend a minute with one of his case studies. This one from a small family law firm shows the difference a day with John makes.

There’s more to discuss, but start with this process. It’s amazing what proper design will get you.

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