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Strategic Planning for Startup Ops and Tech Functions

Posted By Frances Pomposo, & filed under Blog.


Using strategic planning supported by technology process and support, cross-functional alignment and communication can help you build the right foundation for your legal department’s success.

So, you’re new to legal ops. Or your company is new to legal operations. Or maybe you’re in an existing role and looking to do a reset. Whatever the case, the CLOC 12 Core Competencies Reference Model can be used to structure your legal operations function.

The areas outlined below from the CLOC 2018 Conference keynote focus on three critical and impactful competencies.

Strategic Planning
Technology Process & Support
Cross Functional Alignment & Communication

These competencies provide you with all the insights you need to:

  • Approach goals, use and drive GC priorities, and learn how to size and staff your organization to achieve your goals.
  • Understand your department’s current state through a SWOT analysis
  • Create world-class strategic assets like vision/mission statements and tech roadmaps

Using strategic planning supported by technology process and support, cross-functional alignment and communication can help you build the right foundation for your legal department’s success.

Strategic Planning

A strategic plan sets you and the legal department in motion. An effective strategic plan is the difference between a reactive admin function and a partnership with your legal team where they trust you to guide them into places unknown. Without strategic planning, there’s no compass. With it, you’re at the helm and you steer the ship.

So, what exactly is a strategy? It’s the how. Or rather, a plan of action you lay out to achieve the mission, vision and goals of a legal department. You will always have competing priorities. Stakeholders and even vendors will try to influence you. Do your homework and build a strategy so that when competing priorities come up, you have a True North and can align people, projects and initiatives to that selfsame True North.

So where does one start?

The key is to start where the org is. The way to determine this is to embark on a roadshow of listening, asking probing questions and getting to know who your stakeholders are and what their needs are. You must deeply understand company goals, legal leadership goals and GC goals. Next comes a thorough analysis against CLOC foundations and core competencies. Through this high-level active analysis, you can start to get a sense of the current state, identify current opportunities and risks, what’s happening and what’s missing. To go into a framework, you have to prioritize based on company, GC, and legal leadership goals. But it all starts with the listening roadshow.

SWOT Analysis

The SWOT— strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats— Analysis is another strategic planning tool which can provide the business with a clear view of the advantages you have over competitors and your possible vulnerabilities. It’s an essential business planning tool that will help you:

  • Uncover opportunities that are quick wins
  • Understand the weaknesses of your business in order to help manage and eliminate threats.
  • Where do you need investment? Is it process, budget, resources, etc?
  • Determine strengths that serve as a foundation or starting point for a solution.

While developing your SWOT Analysis ask yourself on the following questions:

  • Are you thinking about the long game?
  • What are the unique priorities of your GC?
  • What has the most value?

Strategy components

To help clarify the who, the why, and the what of a legal operations strategy, formulate and document the following: Mission Statement: Formalize the aims and goals of the org or department in order to communicate what you want to do. Make it clear, concise and useful.
  • Who are your primary customers?
  • What service does your department provide?
  • What is the GC’s primary focus?
Vision Statement: The long-range emotional picture of what you’re striving to achieve. Building blocks:
  • What are three relevant industry and technology trends?
  • Who will we serve in five years?
  • What problems will we solve in five years?
Goals: What are your organization’s goals for the next one, three or five years. How will your department support said goals? Are these goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound)?
  • Establish top objectives
  • Define top initiatives to support the initiatives
  • Establish measurable and repeatable metrics

Don’t rely on assumptions or what the org has done previously. Leverage the people that you have. Do interviews. Discover trends. Create the mission, vision and departmental goals, overlay them onto your SWOT analysis, and create a work plan using SMART goals. SMART goals have clear objectives, initiatives, metrics, owners, deadlines and project plans.

Technology Process & Support

Legal ops focuses on increasing efficiency and productivity by optimizing the delivery of legal services to the wider business. Technology and process are a core ingredient of any successful legal operations function. As you roadshow, develop strategic goals and conduct your department SWOT analysis, there will be issues, gaps, problems, and asks that can be solved with process engineering and technology solutions. Centralize all of these, categorize them as opportunities, and place them into a technology backlog and roadmap. The backlog is where all opportunities are captured, managed and prioritized into a list of work, or roadmap. The roadmap outlines sequentially which technology or process solutions you will implement over the month, quarter, and fiscal year.

Roadmaps are another strategic planning tool in your toolkit ensuring investments meet the short and long-term goals of the organization. They can also be used as a budget, alignment and communications tool and are often accompanied by more in-depth business cases, implementation and communications plans.

“[Backlogs and Roadmaps] are the easiest way to let people know that you’re listening to them, that it’s on the radar and that you’re setting appropriate priorities and expectations.” — Frances Pomposo, Director of Legal & PEC Operations  

Cross Functional Alignment & Communication

But wait, there’s more! Communication & buy in (internal & external) can make or break any initiative. A new process may rely on inputs from Procurement. New technology may also feed data downstream to Finance.

Key Business Unit Alignment

Think about the key business units cross-functionally that work with Legal. Who do you need to start meeting with on day one? Establish relationships and align legal ops with your partners in other organizations. Not only will this provide you with an in-depth understanding of their goals and work dependencies but it will also help you get buy-in. Communicate what legal ops is aiming to achieve, establish early adopters, set up periodic meetings and get on their roadmaps.

Department Comms

A huge part of legal operations is being the department spokesperson, responsible for making sure those who need to know about projects, successes, etc. are in the know. As the head of the legal ops function, you are responsible for marketing the department and keeping initiatives top of mind and bolstering the work the team does and how they positively impact the company and serve as a business partner.

Key Takeaways

  • You are customer service brand for your department.
  • Over-communication is key. Because legal operations is often executing behind the scenes, it is important to make sure your department knows what is going on/being worked on at all times.
  • Cross-functional alignment is critical to success. Maintain and/or improve relationships with key business units.
  • Think about the long game and track trends year over year. Develop a tech roadmap and make your vision a reality.