Make Litigation Timelines in PowerPoint

Half my family are attorneys, so how I became a software developer is a bit of an oddity. Regardless, since my focus is on presentation software, it didn’t take long for me to think about trial software and their presentation needs for litigation, mediation or defense.

I have been told that timelines are the preferred visual for attorneys and legal teams who need to chronologically demonstrate the facts and events of their case, as a means of supporting their oral arguments. I have also been told that it is critical that these timeline visuals are easy-to-understand, because complex timelines risk diminishing the juror’s retention rate. This seems to be a consistent theme across all types of cases from business litigation to personal injury litigation, and also across the various legal forums from the mediator’s office to the courtroom.

I started to wonder about software that could help make their legal presentations, particularly their opening and closing statements, much easier for jurors and mediators to understand, and therefore more persuasive and more memorable.

litigation timeline summary in Excel

Although I don’t know much about legal presentation strategies, I do understand how people process information and how important it would be for litigators to properly present the timing of events and facts which form the foundation of a case. I also understand that litigators and legal teams sometimes struggle to build a simple, presentable timeline of case events that will support their oral arguments. They tell me simple timeline visuals, rather than complex legal charts, are more helpful in getting judges, juries and mediators to understand their case evidence better, but also to remember it better.

When it comes to courtroom visuals, professional-looking litigation timelines have been difficult to create in house because attorneys and legal teams struggle with many of the same issues that my enterprise customers struggle with. They do not have simple and familiar software tools to make this work easy. There are some stand-alone case timeline applications available, however they are complicated, expensive and do not work well with Microsoft PowerPoint. Without natively leveraging a presentation platform like PowerPoint, they tend to produce unappealing graphics that are difficult for judges and juries to understand, and consequently many attorneys outsource this work to trial support companies.

As it is in the corporate world and on campus, PowerPoint seems also to be ubiquitous in the legal world. It is optimized for delivering effective presentations and so using it to create litigation timelines makes a lot of sense. The challenge for many litigators is that PowerPoint is a blank slate and there is no simple way to create litigation timelines. Office Timeline may solve the problem.

It is a timeline maker that is embedded into PowerPoint, so using it to create, manage and present compelling litigation timelines is familiar and quick. It starts with a simple wizard for entering your case events or importing those events directly from Excel. Then you click a button and your case information is turned into a PowerPoint timeline slide. Once created, it is easy to control and format the litigation timeline with colors, shapes, fonts and other styling preferences to best emphasize key events. It frees litigators from having to do tedious timeline construction and from having to outsource this work.

hours and minutes litigation timeline

Since my exposure to the legal world has been limited, I wanted to validate some of this thinking with an expert in the field. I contacted Sherry Wirth, President of The Exhibit Company, a Texas litigation design and trial support specialist firm. They have been doing this kind of thing for a long time and she told me that judge and juror retention will be significantly increased when visuals are used in conjunction with oral argument. Sherry said that her firm has created over 800 litigation timelines over the past 18 years. She said they are really effective because they are a road map for the jury, a path they can clearly follow which reinforces the key facts, evidence and testimony.

I asked about the tools her firm uses and she said they “have tried just about every timeline program out there and always defaulted to PowerPoint because it gives us ultimate flexibility and it is a platform that most of our clients are familiar with.” She also said that it is a painstaking process even for experienced PowerPoint designers to create timeline slides in PowerPoint. I asked her team to try Office Timeline to see if it would be valuable in the litigation industry. Here’s what she said. “It is a game changer, its simple and elegant interface lets you literally copy and paste your information from Excel and, with the push of a button, create a beautiful timeline.

Office Timeline make legal timeline

This validated my assumptions and our team is focusing on solving more challenges in the legal presentation space.

Download and try the free version of Office Timeline for PowerPoint.


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Showing Appreciation for Project Team Effort

showing appreciation

I just read an email from a highly regarded project management software vendor about showing Valentine's Day appreciation to project team members with Valentine's Day cards. You've got to be kidding. This is not the 2nd grade, where we all make our Valentine's Day mailboxes for our desks out of shoe boxes decorated in red, pink and white. I couldn't believe what I was reading. It probably came from the same person who dreamed up giving participation ribbons or trophies to everyone.

Rewards are good, however, I've been a manager or project manager leading teams for 23 years and prizing has never been my strong point - nor has it ever been a big deal to me. But I do feel strongly about letting the word get out about a job, deliverable or milestone well-done by an individual or team effort on one of my projects. If you do like to give out special prizes or gift cards or Valentine's Day cards to your team... more power to you. It's just not for me. This is why I'd like to discuss alternative types of recognition options as they seem to be lacking in the project management community.

I'm not big on making any reward too personal in nature. People today are too litigious. I'm not saying your team or anyone on it is going to sue you, but people can do unexpected odd things to remain completely above reproach. Therefore, it is more cautious to never get personal. Consider these four staff recognition ideas to show your appreciation for individual or team efforts:

Send out a company wide email

If your team put forth a great effort and met a critical deadline or milestone or just completed a very successful project, don't wait for or expect reward or notice to come from the top of the organization. Send out your own congratulatory email to the entire company or at least to key individuals and call out everyone by name. If possible, give a brief mention of everyone's role in the project and how they contributed to its success.

Take the team out to dinner

It never hurts to take the team out for pizza or a nice dinner once you hit that critical milestone or final project roll-out. You can all breathe a sigh of relief and get together when it isn't about another project meeting or some sort of crisis to deal with in a war room setting. Today's projects, with geographically dispersed teams, make something like this difficult or even impossible, so you likely won't get to use this option often. If you all gather at the client's site for a major deliverable handoff, lessons learned meeting, quarterly review meeting or project roll-out, use that time to get away one evening to do this. I've done that many times and it works great.

Gift cards for extraordinary individual efforts

When it was more of an individual effort, like powering through a project issue crisis or key deliverable, you can still do the company-wide email distribution. But this may also be a situation where a nice gift card would be in order.

Days off

Finally, you can always fall back on the option to give a couple of days off to a project team member for extraordinary effort – if you have the authority or you can work it out with the team member's direct manager... and if you can spare the time off in the project schedule for the individual. No one will mind a day or two off of work, so this option almost always will be well received.

Summary / call for input

I think most project team pros would appreciate recognition similar to what I've listed here more than a Valentine's Day card. At any rate, these have worked well for me on my teams and direct reports. But I do realize everyone is different. Readers – what is your take on my list? What have you tried that has worked well... or hasn't gone over so well? Please share and discuss.


Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience. Visit Brad's site at www.bradegeland.com







Make professional timelines quickly, right inside PowerPoint

1 Million+ Professionals across the globe use Office Timeline to quickly create customizable and uniquely distinctive timelines and Gantt charts without the complexity or cost.


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How to Prevent and Solve Project Communication Issues

project manager office meeting

Proper, effective and efficient communication may be the single most important ingredient to project success. I feel strongly that project communication is the most important part of a PM's daily responsibilities and overall good communication is the responsibility of every stakeholder. Drop the ball on communication, and you might be looking at rework, a missed deadline, expenses pushing the project over budget and customer concerns or misunderstandings that can drive a project into the ground – faster than you can ever imagine.

There is no magic wand to wave that will ensure a project won't suffer issues. Even a project that starts out with a formal communication plan in hand and a PM dedicated to staying on top of all communication channels at all times may still suffer from communication breakdowns.

Review status regularly as a team

Since a tightly knit, cohesive team is usually tantamount to success, it would make sense that a team that communicates well, accurately, and frequently is also more likely to experience success and be more productive. Therefore, scheduling team meetings, communication, and task and status reviews regularly is always going to be a good idea. Keep in mind, it doesn't always have to be a meeting. Daily updates via email can be enough to make your team feel like they know everything about the project at any given minute. One of my business analysts on a project – who was also working on three other projects with three other project managers – told me that he received more emails from me than the other Project Managers. He said he always felt like he knew my project status much better because of this, and he knew what tasks he should be working on at any given time.

Keep meetings regular

Regular meetings = a stable stakeholder environment = communications that are comfortable and open. If you are conducting – as you should be – regular project status reviews with the customer or weekly project team meetings to keep the crew focused and up to date, keep those meetings no matter what. Even if there isn't much to say at any given meeting, still conduct it... even if it ends up being a 5 minute talk about what everyone is doing this weekend. You never know when some piece of key project information may slip through the cracks when a meeting is canceled that should have otherwise been held. Plus, when you start to cancel meetings, people who would normally be in attendance may feel that your meetings aren't as critical as others they could be attending and your attendance and participation levels may drop. You've then lost key participants and decision makers, which can be disastrous for the project, and it's often very difficult to rein those individuals back in.

Follow up on key communications

Always, always, always follow up. Making sure everyone is on the same page after meetings, brainstorming synchs, troubleshooting sessions or after any customer communications is critical to moving forward in the right direction. Follow up with notes and ask for a 24-hour turnaround response with any feedback or changes from those involved in the discussions. If something has changed, redistribute your communication with updates and everyone will be back on the same page again.

Summary / call for input

Communication is Job One for the project manager, in my opinion. Keep communication in order, and you've taken huge steps to ensuring project success and top team performance for your customer. If you are experiencing any communication issues on your project, try to identify any communication gaps that may be clouding the team’s comprehension of scope and requirements or, where people aren't aligned after the meetings you're conducting, try the tips above as a way to get things back on track. A strong line of communication with the project client is also a very good way to keep customer satisfaction high and hopefully secure repeat business from your stakeholders.

Readers – what are your thoughts on project communication issues? What do you commonly see as communication problems on the projects and how do you best avoid or mitigate them?


brad egeland
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience. Visit Brad's site at www.bradegeland.com







Make professional timelines quickly, right inside PowerPoint

1 Million+ Professionals across the globe use Office Timeline to quickly create customizable and uniquely distinctive timelines and Gantt charts without the complexity or cost.


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Become a More Effective Project Manager

efficient project manager

Today's business environment is hyper-focused on efficiency, and the job of a project manager is quite different – and a lot harder – than it was just a decade ago. According to the research advisory organization The Standish Group, only 39% of all projects meet their goals, and the PM plays a crucial role in their success (or failure).

But what makes these project managers effective and what skills should you nurture to ensure your PM practice is successful? Brushing up on the following 6 soft skills will help a PM become more efficient.

Communication

Every business magazine and leadership coach talk about the importance of communication. Even though as much as 90% of a project manager's time may be spent communicating, this mission critical skill is often overlooked. Almost every area of a project will require good communication skills, from pitching ideas to stakeholders or explaining processes to senior managers, to keeping your team on track, assigning tasks or boosting morale.

PM communication can be improved, by making sure messages are conveyed clearly, concisely and completely, in a form or format that is familiar and easy for audiences to understand. Perhaps surprisingly, good communication also requires excellent listening skills, where PMs are able to absorb what others are trying to communicate back to them.

The most effective PMs adapt their communication style to fit their audiences. For example, while peers and team members may understand Project Management terminology, clients and executives will find it difficult to follow our industry jargon and our methodology. One technique to overcome this is to provide simple visuals such as graphs, charts and timelines that will communicate high-level information to non-technical audiences in an appealing, easy-to-understand manner.

efficient project management plan

Networking and Politics

Great project managers cultivate and rely on informal networks, both inside and outside the organization, to identify problems or solve critical issues. They understand the political dynamics of an organization and are aware that not everyone across the org may want the project to succeed. Project Management requires savviness in relationships and the ability to anticipate such dynamics. A project’s success or failure can sometimes be attributed as much to managing politics as to managing the actual project implementation. Project Managers need to develop their ability to read and anticipate the intentions and motivations of all parties involved or influencing their project.

Organization

The requirements for managing a project end-to-end are extremely broad. This means PMs will depend on excellent organizational skills in order to manage these broad responsibilities effectively. An effective project manager should have clear visibility on all the required pieces and processes at all times, as well as an understanding of how each piece or process contributes to the success of the project. Setting objectives and deadlines, creating milestones, putting together viable schedules, making timelines and tracking progress are pivotal to the successful delivery of a project.

Risk Management

One significant lapse that can threaten successfully achieving a project’s objectives – or even rendering it impossible to deliver – is the failure to foresee risks and the failure to develop appropriate risk mitigation strategies. An experienced PM should exercise a risk anticipation process that identifies potential issues which could arise over the course of the project, assesses the adverse effects they may have on the project, and develops mitigation solutions in advance. Most importantly, effective PMs take these risks and mitigation strategies into consideration before creating plans, project schedules, resource requirements and budget projections.

Expertise in the Subject Matter of the Project

It has been said that a good PM can work in any field without specific experience in that particular industry. While this may be conceptually true, in reality, having some degree of PM knowledge in a vertical or sector is a key success enabler. Having vertical project experience immediately gives a PM authority, but, more importantly, they will add value to the project based on their insight and experiences. This doesn't mean, for example, that PMs working on a software development project must learn how to code software, but that they do need to understand industry methodologies, how development teams work, and what the critical pieces are for successful software development.

Delegation

A mandatory skill in becoming an effective PM is knowing how to delegate tasks to the right individuals. This requires a deep understanding of each project team member’s capabilities and limitations. Good delegation skills will free-up a PM’s time and enable them to focus on other important areas of the project that require attention. Effective delegation also demonstrates to the project team members that the PM is confident in their skills and accountability. It empowers team members, who may now feel trusted, responsible and not micro-managed.

Project management is a profession that implies constant learning, practice and commitment. Nurturing the skills presented above by incorporating them into a daily practice and supplementing them with other techniques will help aspiring project managers become more effective.


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1 Million+ Professionals across the globe use Office Timeline to quickly create customizable and uniquely distinctive timelines and Gantt charts without the complexity or cost.


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How to Communicate Project Status to Clients



Here’s something we don’t often think about when working with an external client. Our client probably has no idea of project-management methodology and they most likely don’t know Prince2 or PMBOK or any of the ambiguous vernacular we project managers use. Things like agile, burn down, critical path, earned value, epics, float, scrum, sprints, variance, and work breakdown may be intimidating terminology to non-practitioners. Yet, this is often the language we use when we communicate with them.


Occasionally, our client may be 100% assigned to working-on and managing our project. In cases like this, they may be comfortable with the project management process, however, it is more likely that this person has been assigned to the project because the project is somehow within the broader scope of their responsibilities. Additionally, overseeing the project may only be 5% of that person's overall duties. So, although the project may be strategic to him or her, it is probably not their primary daily function. That is why we shouldn’t expect them to be adept at understanding project management methodology or the terminology of our practice.


Clients like this want us to remember that they are not experts in project management, but that they are professionals with full time jobs in their particular field of business - manufacturing, finance, healthcare, transportation, etc. They hired us to be the expert in project management. They want us to communicate and report to them in a way that they can understand; and in a way that is not intimidating and filled with technical project jargon. Our client will have to answer to somebody higher-up in their organization, and that person will also need to be briefed on where your project stands. Clients want us to remember that they have to roll our project reviews and status reports up to their executives in a way their executives can digest them.


In a previous post we wrote about how Project Managers should communicate with their own managers and executives when providing status reports. Many of the same principles apply when communicating with external clients. Here are the top 3 must-dos when communicating with clients:

1. A picture is worth 1K words

Most often our clients are busy people who do not have the time to read text heavy, detailed communications. Graphs, charts and other project visuals can give the client a lot of information. They are also easy for clients to share or distribute within their organization. Including visuals in your communications such as a schedule or small scoreboard will help them understand your report at a glance. Alternatively, if visuals are not possible, presenting your key data on a slide that consists of bullet points and percents will make it more viewable and shareable.

One of the best visual ways to present project status to clients is to use a Gantt chart that also contains percent complete for each task, just like the one below.


2. Less detail is better

We are quite competent at producing richly detailed reports and communications. We are, after all, in a detail management profession, so communicating everything from budget and schedules to sprints and resources, is natural to us. Also, delivering this much detail may seem like we are demonstrating control and accountability. A smarter approach is to just provide a summary of key data that gives the status or health of the project at that particular moment. Of course, you will have the rich detail in case your client wants to drill down, however, it is better to start with a high-level summary and then bring in the detail when asked.

3. Watch your language

When communicating with clients, do so as if you were talking to a non-technical person in your organization, perhaps a marketing person or an admin. When preparing reports or client communications, you should assume that it will go beyond your immediate client, to a wider audience, or that your client will need to digest your report and roll-it up to their management. For these reasons, it makes sense to clean out any heavy terminology that we use in our daily work, or that our project management tools and applications spit out. Instead, communicate in a clear, neutral way that is easy for non-project audiences to understand.

Much of this comes down to being respectful of our client’s time and priorities. They are busy people, working on other important things. They do not have the time to try and digest long communications, nor may they have the capacity or desire to understand the project management world and the cryptic language we speak. Adapting our communications styles to fit their needs will make us more valuable professionals and it will increase the visibility of our work at the customer.


Make professional timelines quickly, right inside PowerPoint

1 Million+ Professionals across the globe use Office Timeline to quickly create customizable and uniquely distinctive timelines and Gantt charts without the complexity or cost.


BUILD GANTT CHARTS