When Things Go Wrong
Michael Spivey, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, Walmart International, USA
Project management skills are often undervalued in legal departments
As in-house counsel, we are often called upon to manage or participate in company or departmental projects. These projects can be complex litigation projects, internal investigations, M&A transactions or they can be something more corporate in nature such as the implementation of an IT system, or a company-wide organisational realignment. Whatever the form and flavour, and no matter how mundane one may seem, projects (even small ones as I have learned recently) can be painful and expensive traps for the uninitiated.
Project management was the last thing on my mind at a recent holiday party until I met an old childhood mate that I had not seen in years. As we ordered our favourite holiday cocktails, the good cheer of re-acquaintance suddenly turned somber as my mate related a gut-wrenching property renovation project turned fiasco. He somberly described a chain of unfortunate business decisions that not only resulted in a significant financial loss for his family’s real estate investment fund, but also created intense and ongoing familial acrimony that threatened to break up the fund itself. As I know this family well, my mate’s story served as a painful reminder that bad things can happen to good and smart people when critical project management fundamentals are not followed. It also caused me to reflect on the many projects I have been involved with during my career as in-house counsel. What made some work so well and others fizzle? How can small and straightforward projects go so badly whilst highly complex projects succeed without hitches? Aided by my mate’s unfortunate saga and my own experience as in-house counsel, this article identifies the fundamental ingredients for success and potential pitfalls of any project, big or small, simple or complex.
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