In-house: How to Measure Success
One of the great things about being in-house is that we don’t have billable hours but then how do you measure success. Not tracking our time in 6-minute increments means we can spread our focus to things that don’t always have a direct connection to the bottom line. However, we can also be seen as chasing rabbits and completely ineffectual in managing our resources – especially during budget time. Unlike at a firm, it’s not apparent to the folks in charge of the purse strings what we actually do every day. To be honest, it’s not entirely apparent to me what we do every day. So, saying that I need another body or expensive technology to do it is going to naturally be met with a lot of resistance.
Enter the wonder of metrics. When you work for a technology company, you quickly learn the value of metrics. You also learn that metrics, like any other statistic, can give you a flawed view if you’re not measuring the right things or don’t have the right benchmarks to gauge your metrics against. And that’s where we in house leaders struggle. How do we measure the value of our team’s contributions? How do we illustrate what that means to the stakeholders within the organization? And how can we translate that into hard needs when it comes time to allocate the limited resources of the company?
I’d love to say I have all the answers, but I don’t. What I do have is some practices that I have put in place to help me tell the story internally, and to assist me personally in managing my team. First priority is to establish the company priorities. Do you operate in a contracts economy – everything negotiated? Then you need to have some visibility into that workload. Does innovation drive your revenue? Then measure your patenting process, not just the number of patents actually obtained. In addition to what I glean from staff and board meetings, I send out an annual survey via Survey Monkey to the leadership team. The survey focuses in part on where does the business wants to prioritize – does it take long to get a contract reviewed? Are we ignoring important employee relations matters? Does our compliance program have any holes? The other part of the survey focuses on client satisfaction – are the legal team members easy to work with? Do they provide the answers you were looking for, or go off on unrelated tangents? Are they providing solutions when raising concerns or just throwing water on your ideas? The results of this survey, along with the overall company strategies and industry environment help guide me to what I need to measure.
Choose your metric to measure success.
Next, we need to figure out how to measure those priorities. Do you just count the number of contracts reviewed, or do you add a metric for complexity? Do we include average time in each status? Time from first review only or for the process from submission to signature? How do we measure the risk management efforts that actually avoid risk in the easy to measure but costly matters – like training for managers, so we don’t have employment claims filed? Do we measure the number of invention disclosures submitted, or only the number of applications worked on? How do we account for the hours spent cultivating the process so that inventors remember to submit their invention disclosures, or the hours spent evaluating ideas that fail to meet the requirements of an “invention”?
The way you measure your priorities will vary greatly depending on the industry, the company, and the priorities. In my last high contract based role, I measured a number of contracts and time for review from the first turn. I counted the number of training sessions for risk avoidance and compliance issues, as well as the number of cross functional projects I worked on where the primary purpose is risk avoidance or compliance. I measured the number of potential patent disclosures submitted by the engineering team. I also tried to measure how effectively we’re managing the budget we do have – where do we spend the money? Have we reduced outside counsel spend? Or at least refocused it to more value-added areas? Are we utilizing the technology we’ve paid for or should we cancel the services, etc?
Of course, none of those measurements mean a thing without a frame of reference. I can review 100 contracts a month and my CFO will say, “and?” if I don’t also show him that the average in house attorney focusing solely on contracts averages around 30-40 contracts a month (at least according to my informal inquiries with the local in-house community). Now, 100 seems to be overwhelming and he understands the request for a new contracts attorney. If I’m filing an average of patent a month or more, I can translate that into outside counsel costs and hours spent both internally and externally to justify the expense of bringing that in house. By measuring how effectively I’m managing the budget, I get more respect and credibility when I say it’s not enough. And, by showing that we’ve managed to reduce transaction times from 6 weeks to 2 weeks, I’ve got a champion in my sales team who doesn’t want to go back to 6 weeks. None of which would be possible if I couldn’t prove where the value had been added and how we can add more.
It should come as no surprise then that when we were developing ALOE, we made sure that you have the ability to easily track the things that matter to you. We’ve predefined some reports to help you get started with some of the basics mentioned above. We’ve also added functionality to allow you to custom create reports and tracking so that you can provide virtually any metric need to prove your teams’ success.