Setting Priorities with the Allen Fuqua Smart Work Matrix

Gordon Braun-WoodburyMarketing Operations

Over the past few weeks, the Calibrate Legal team has been on a speaking tour of LMA regional conferences.  Our workshop presentation, “Running your Department Like a Business,” is designed to help legal marketers operate more efficiently and increase their contribution to their firms.

One of the topics we cover is setting priorities.  Now, we know this does not come easily in legal marketing, because marketers are often at the beck and call of partners — each of them carrying a lot of positional power due to their status as owners. This can lead to a chaotic work environment where priorities are unclear and always changing, and stress is high.

In our workshop, we share a practical approach to priority setting that really makes sense in law firms –  one we learned from our friend Allen Fuqua, CMO of Winstead PC.

Too often, legal marketing work is prioritized based on extrinsic factors, such as the requesting partner’s personality and status in the firm, or the urgency of the deadline.  Allen offers a better way.  He believes that all work that legal marketers do can be categorized in along two dimensions:

  1. The project’s potential value to the firm.  “Value”  is defined as the degree to which the activity contributes to generating work or building key relationships.
  2. The marketer’s ability to Influence the project’s outcome by applying their expertise, creativity and innovation

Allen’s Smart Work Matrix offers a way to categorize projects so that we can handle them differentially, based on where they land on the two dimensions.

Smart Work Matrix

Allen encourages us to be objective and honest in evaluating every piece of work we take on according to where it falls in four quadrants of the Smart Work Matrix:

  • Projects in the top right quadrant – high value, high ability to influence – are “gold”.  These are the ones on which we want to spend our energy, because it is here that our creativity and innovation can make a difference for the firm.
  • Projects in the bottom left quadrant – low value, low ability to influence – need to be approached differently.  We don’t invest our energy here.  Where possible we get the project off our plate through delegation or outsourcing.  At a minimum we ensure there’s a clear business sponsor who is prepared to take full ownership. Our process is to understand what the sponsor wants, get her approval for what we’ve delivered, and move on.
  • Projects in the top left quadrant – high value, low ability to influence – need to be handled through rigorous process.  Since we don’t have much influence in how these turn out, our goal is to deliver the work consistently, on time and with no errors.
  • Projects in the bottom right quadrant – low value, but high ability to influence – should ideally be pruned from our portfolio.  Even if we can apply innovation and creativity here, why would we do so if the project has low value to the firm?

The Smart Work Matrix is a powerful tool that can help legal marketers gain more control over their work and lives.  If you haven’t yet seen one of Allen’s presentations on this topic, we encourage you to take 20 minutes out of your day to watch him in action on YouTube.  We think you’ll be inspired!