While attending the recent Ark Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Libraries meeting in New York, I was excited when the conversation turned to request management best practices. Having spent the past couple of years considering this very topic, I eagerly anticipated the upcoming discussion hoping to take some points back to the team developing our Request Tracking solution, Quest. Ron Friedman and Jean O’Grady facilitated the discussion, asking a variety of questions to find out how firms organize their request management processes. Just as the conversation began to get really interesting the group ran out of time and the session closed. Admittedly the session was only meant to explore the idea of defining best practices, and the topic of request management was merely an example. But I got the sense the group quickly forgot it was an exercise as it dealt with one of if not _the_ most important operational aspects of the research and technical services functions within the firm; namely how to design the process of incoming request management in an efficient and effective manner.
As the Ark session wrapped up I decided to write a request tracking best practices document and recently sat down to do just that, armed with my Ark meeting notes and my notes from numerous client discussions. Many hours later I’m no closer to defining what is “best” and I now wonder whether it is possible to define a “best” practice when it’s clear that each firm has valid reasons for designing this process differently. Firm size, number of offices, location of research and technical services staff and the type of the internal systems used all impact how best to organise operations. For example, it’s all well and good saying that the best way of assigning incoming requests is to feed them through to the appropriate researchers based on office location or the nature of the question asked, but if your firm has a single office with two research staff managing all requests this is clearly not appropriate. This illustrates the problem with my approach which was also evident during the Ark group discussion, which is that the discussion tends to focus in too much detail on the systems and processes without taking into account differences in the nature of firm or the specifics of the research team.
Perhaps rather than attempt to define global best practice, the question becomes what are the best practices for a firm with a particular set of characteristics – or put another way:
Given the nature of your firm and the number of research and technical services staff available, how should you design the process of managing incoming requests to meet your team’s objectives?
The statement above implies that any change in the size of the firm, number or location of offices, number of research staff should result in a reassessment of your processes. Now that I’ve reframed the question, it seems more difficult to produce a useful framework given the large number of possible combinations of factors. Rather than defining “best” practices I’m going to shift the goalposts and aim for a discussion of a range of acceptable practices given broad categories of firm size, locations, team size, etc. The realisation that it is hard to agree a one-size-fits all approach is very valuable for me and my team as it helps design our solution to be flexible in certain areas. The benefit of this discussion is that it helps define in which areas we need to be flexible, and in which areas there is general agreement about the best approach.
Now that I’ve given some thought to the components which impact acceptable processes, the next thing is to think about the high level processes to define – for example;
- How to accept or receive requests?
- How to store requests?
- How to assign them among your team?
My task now is to expand on this set of processes, and attempt to list a range of acceptable practices for firms with particular characteristics; a much more complicated task than my original idea of a single set of “best practices”. I’ve titled this article “Part 1” because I’m going to need more time to think through the various combinations to produce anything of value. I hope to have a better answer to question of “best practices” – categorized into firm size, size and location of research team, etc. in part two of the topic series.
I’m sorry not to have arrived at an answer this month, the initial thinking around how to structure the article was a necessary part of the process which I hope to complete over the next month.
Until next month then…
Peter Borchers – Priory Solutions Managing Director