What do you think of when you hear the word agile? A hummingbird or maybe a tiger? Agile is the ability to move sprightly and sporadically. Agile also describes a methodology of project management built on the same principals that we witness in nature. Agile is often used for new software development, yet, the same approach can be applied to electronic discovery.
Jim Highsmith is a popular agile guru who employs his passion, mountain climbing, to explain the key concepts of Agile methodology. When confronted with the ascent, a mountain climber diagrams the course starting at the base to the summit. Yet once the climbing starts, things change. The ledge that looked promising from the base is, in fact, obstructed. The climb or plan needs to be adjusted. This type of versatility is required in mountain climbing as it is with project management.
Agile methodology allows the team to quickly deliver high-quality project increments again and again. The agile team follows “sprint schedules.” Sprint schedules are manageable chunks of work created when the project team selects the amount of work it can deliver from the prioritized backlog and using historical reference as a guide, the team determines how much work to schedule in each sprint until the project is completed. The major benefit is that when the results of each sprint are reviewed by the stakeholders, the scope can be reconsidered and changed if needed be, prior to the following sprint. This results in timely delivery with continuous improvement, which is at the core of the Agile framework.
How does the agile framework apply to electronic discovery?
First, let’s review the concepts. Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM) is a well-established, structured approach to both information management and data collection. The EDRM framework described in the well-known diagram is a conceptual view of the e-discovery process. We may work through the phases as laid out, or change our mind and elect to work on them in a different order.
In e-discovery, information is not rapidly changing due to legal control, represented by the legal hold. Yet while data resides in far-flung locations throughout the enterprise and will need to be kept for years, depending on the legal matter, the marketplace is shifting. Vendors offer new tools and technologies that may change one’s approach, breeding uncertainty. This uncertainty lends itself to the Agile framework in addressing e-discovery.
Below is a comparison of the traditional Waterfall methodology and the Agile methodology for the same for e-discovery project.
How to use Agile methodology in e-discovery
In e-discovery, we don’t have a lot of information up front to restrict the amount of data collected. These restrictions will present themselves when the data has been culled and processed. The legal team wants a wide net in which to collect as much data as may be responsive and to promote defensibility. If data is lost or not collected, this may lead to costly fines or even the forfeiture of the case. Agile can be very well suited for e-discovery as it reduces the cost of change and uncertainty.
“Rolling productions” is the most common term used in e-discovery that fits the Agile methodology. A rolling production is a subset of the required files to be produced to the court and opposing counsel. An SME (subject matter expert) would review the subset of the production to identify responsive and non-responsive documents. The predictive analytics engine would then assign scores to the rest of the documents based on the SME’s relevant and non-relevant decisions. This process helps the review team prioritize their review of documents. The prioritized document backlog to be processed allows the legal e-discovery team to chunk the work into manageable amounts and assign a relative cost to each of their major requirements. The e-discovery team then prioritizes the requirements based on the risk, cost, and level of effort, thereby creating sprint schedules.
At the end of each sprint, the results need to be reviewed and discussed by a designated stakeholder, allowing the stakeholder or end customer to validate the work and ensure quality and completeness. For example, if the e-discovery team believes the email collection is complete, perhaps it is time to collect network file shares or social media. What to collect next may have a much higher value, in risk, cost, and effort. This new requirement can be incorporated and prioritized appropriately with prior sprint findings as input.
Using agile for rolling productions, the e-discovery team can show tangible progress against the high priority tasks. An agile burndown chart (amount of work left versus time) assists in reallocating resources to critical areas.
Reducing cost and risk
Introducing Agile to the EDRM process will decrease the burden on the e-discovery team in the following ways:
- Reduce the overall amount of data the e-discovery team will need to filter and search
- A decrease in manual processes
- Create less slippage in the schedule in terms of time and scope
- Enhanced strategy adherence and focus on real business requirements
The Agile-EDRM strategy aligns with the pressing business need and demonstrates better quality results and prevent delays and cost overruns. Like all change though, it obviously requires a shift in mindset to realize these gains.