So, you’re looking at the idea of change. Whether it’s in eDiscovery, technology, or not related in any way, change progresses in a series of phases. Learning more about those phases and where you and your team may fall at any given time can be very helpful toward smoothing out the process. We’ll give you a bite-sized view of each phase, going a little more in-depth about what happens in that phase, how to tell you’re in it, and what you can expect.
As you continue reading this series on change, keep in mind that these stages are fluid. They will likely not occur in a linear fashion, and you’ll move back and forth among them. Also, remember that the group of stakeholders involved in the change process may be at different stages at different times; if someone else is still in contemplation and you’re ready to talk about the nitty-gritty of preparation, you’re interacting on two different levels. Identifying the stages of all decision-making team members will help everyone work together.
Phase #0 – Precontemplation
Hang on, why is there a stage zero? Well, it’s the time in the change process that precedes the entire thing. It’s when there’s a problem, but there’s no acknowledgment yet that a change is needed.
This is a tricky one to identify for obvious reasons. As mentioned above, regarding a team being in different places during the change process, this phase may drive significant frustration if other team members are anywhere past it. Perhaps the person holding the expenditure approval for new software is stuck here, while the daily users may have already decided that change is necessary.
If that’s the case, being able to identify the issue is a key factor in convincing the parties still in precontemplation that it’s time to move to Phase #1. The best way to address this is a detailed, objective explanation of the problem (because, remember, they don’t know there’s a problem yet). It’s particularly important to have a concise and clear definition of the issue because they may not perceive any discussion as worth their time.
For instance, if the eDiscovery tool being used doesn’t have analytics included in the monthly cost, and the number of cases with large data sets is multiplying, there’s a powerful argument for using technology to conserve human resources. Therefore, exploring a solution with analytics included in the cost offers a positive progression toward having a solution that supports the current eDiscovery parameters.
Phase #1 – Contemplation
The question that begins the entire process of change is a simple one – should we do this? If you find yourself asking the question, it’s important to pay attention to it. But as with many seemingly simple things, it is not easy.
This stage is about acknowledging a problem, but it doesn’t guarantee that change is imminent. An eDiscovery example is a few months in a row of sizeable eDiscovery gigabyte costs that take both you and your clients by surprise. The problem is both higher costs and costs that change month-to-month, but you might not know if a viable change can be made. Perhaps those few months were flukes, and the team decides to let it ride; but when there’s any recognition of an issue, it belongs in this phase.
Notably, the question for this phase is not ‘could we?’ Although practical considerations about a change are crucial to examine in detail, it isn’t the principal purpose of this stage.
During contemplation, it’s natural and good to weigh the general pros and cons of change. In this stage, people are more open to taking in information about the problem that caused this process to begin with, and that’s a critical step. For example, gathering the team of daily users, administrators, clients, and other vital stakeholders and talking about what they like and don’t like about the current solution will provide a valuable framework for the change candidates identified in the next stage.
Phases #2 and #3 – Decision and Preparation
Here, the decision for change has been made. The idea that something has to be done has come to a point, and now it’s just left to determine what form it will take.
This is where research takes place and when you start taking those vendor phone calls (more on that later in the series, so stay tuned!). It’s where you look into eDiscovery workflows and tools that address the problem that started the change process.
As in Contemplation, it’s critical to involve all stakeholders in some portion of this stage. They may not need to be present for all of it, but knowing what the daily users, the ones who will sign the checks, management, partners, clients, and others need from the eDiscovery process allows judgment of a system that includes everyone’s needs. Not everyone will get exactly what they want, of course, but the inclusion of those that will interact with the system in a variety of ways goes a long way to finding a solution that will last longer.
Fortunately, modern eDiscovery tools have a base set of features that are assumed to be present. You can safely assume you’ll be able to filter, search, code, tag, and produce data from a modern tool. The ways those processes occur will be a little different, but the functionality should be there (if it isn’t, that’s an easy one to check off the list).
This is when to create a list of vendors, see demos, watch training videos, and ask for pricing. There are two distinct parts of information gathering here: internal and external. External is the vendors or service providers you are considering for a new solution. Internal is all the stakeholders in your organization and your client’s organization that will be using the new process (workflow/tool combination). Involving information technology professionals in your organization is extremely important at this stage as well since the implementation of a solution is a significant factor in a successful transition.
As the saying goes, preparation is the key to success, and that’s doubly true when technology changes are involved. There will be frustration and missteps if you go directly from contemplation to action. This phase is critical to having a positive and successful experience with change.
Phase #4 – Action
Here we go – this is where the rubber meets the road. Action is the shortest of all the stages and where the effort to change is the highest.
This stage is also where it is easiest to ask for and receive help. It can come from external sources, for example, in the form of transition assistance from service providers. Remember, there is a data element and a human element here.
Getting the databases to talk to each other is one reason it’s essential to involve IT in the preparation stage. Having their input from the beginning helps identify a solution that requires minimal downtime (if that’s an important factor for your situation) and preserves the maximum amount of information when moving platforms.
The human element involves training users and administrators on the new solution and workflow. Some service providers give extensive training, some give a training manual, some are in between, and some just wish you good luck. Understanding what will work for your team is another important factor when doing research – if you have users that don’t have much confidence with the review process, selecting a vendor with easy-to-access project managers or technical assistance is essential. Experienced eDiscovery users might be more concerned with advanced features, loading speed, and analytics, which should be taken into account when considering the amount of time the action phase and implementation will take.
Phase #5 – Maintenance
This is where the new service provider or solution has been implemented, everyone’s undergone a bit of training, and the initial round of questions has been answered. It’s where users are starting to integrate the change into their daily workflow and processes. This is typically the longest stage and may not feel like it’s part of the change progression, even though it is.
Here, users can start diving deeper into the chosen platform’s features and fine-tune how they load data, organize documents in folders, or make productions, for a few examples. This is where setting up templates and figuring out how to make the process more efficient occurs.
Users may also discover issues with their new system. They can be solved internally or with the help of a vendor, depending on the type of solution chosen. New problems may also arise, but it’s recommended to give the change some time to settle before considering another round!
The stages of change are helpful guidelines to know when discussing change in any arena, eDiscovery or otherwise. They can help you pinpoint where you may be at any given time and help you identify where other decision-makers, team members, or stakeholders are sitting. Knowing where everyone sits is vital to working together effectively as a team. Note, however, that change is not a linear process. You may move all the way to action but then have to move back to preparation. Maintenance may turn into pre-contemplation if a problem can’t be solved and makes the workflow untenable again.
Knowing where you are on the continuum makes the change process less mysterious. It’s not a black box, and it’s not as overwhelming as it may seem. Breaking it down into stages means understanding more about what needs to happen and can mean taking steps toward a necessary change. A change that can result in a much more efficient team and a much smoother eDiscovery process.