Monday, June 26, 2017

An Insider’s Take on Lean Innovation at LexisNexis in Raleigh


Lean Innovation is a recent addition to the LexisNexis culture in our Raleigh office. The fundamentals of the movement – talk, learn, hack and experiment – are what led four dedicated employees to start a Lean Innovation program at LexisNexis. The program was created and led by the four: Loai Alsalti, Michael Etgen, Shell Zhu and Murali Naik.

I sat down with the group to get a better picture of what Lean Innovation means to them, and what they hope the program can help accomplish here at LexisNexis.

What is Lean Innovation?

Michael Etgen: Lean Innovation is about incorporating and really living out within our organization the idea of being much more experimental about how we approach our work. When we’re trying to solve problems for customers, it’s not just going with the most obvious and easiest solution. It’s tempting for everybody and sometimes you have to do that, but at least for us and our culture at LexisNexis and the things that are really important for the company and our products, an attitude of experimentation is what is going to get us ahead.

Shell Zhu: We introduced this program to encourage a new way for everyone to look at how quickly we can make things happen. It doesn’t have to be a fully baked and polished idea before you roll it out.  Whether you fail or succeed, you can always learn lessons from it. By encouraging organization-wide cross-pollination and collaboration, we can hopefully establish a new perspective towards innovation:  innovate quickly by continuously learning and improving.

Loai Alsalti: To me, it’s about doing something beyond work, doing something I enjoy that leaves a legacy and makes an impact.

Murali Naik: For me, it relates to the lean agile process we follow in our software development world: It’s a rapid development, fail-fast and learn-fast approach. We quickly access feedback from customers, adjust, and correct, making a positive impact on the final product that goes out to the customer.


What is your role in Lean Innovation?

Loai: I’m one of the co-founders of Lean Innovation at LexisNexis. We wanted to help people with their ideas and create a culture of innovation at the grassroots level. We want to change the DNA of our brand.

Murali: Besides enabling people to put their ideas at the forefront of innovation, I’ve been helping with the Hackathons. The Hackathons are part of the Lean Innovation program that provide a fertile breeding ground to nurture ideas and hopefully take off in the form of new features within our products.

Shell: I think overall we see ourselves not just as leaders, but more as facilitators for this program. Each one of us mainly spearheads one activity,  while collaborating in the overall strategy and direction.  I lead the Lean Innovation talks across the whole Raleigh site. LI Talks aims to provide a platform for free knowledge. We bring together the organization’s most influential thinkers, creators, makers and doers  to create a community of curious folks. I identify and work with various guest speakers who want to share their new vision or  findings in technology, product vision, design and other areas which can inspire and benefit the larger organization.

Michael: My role is to help enable people on the product teams across LexisNexis to both recognize when they have an opportunity to do lean experiments and to provide them with basic guidance and assistance in actually pulling off the experiments.


What do you find most challenging about Lean Innovation?

Murali: The general tendency when one comes up with an idea is that it’s not worth pursuing it or why should I do it. It is very important to encourage people and convince them that most ideas initially seem irrelevant and it takes a channeled effort to make it fruitful. One has to get into the water in order to learn to swim!

Shell: For me, the main challenge in leading and coordinating the Lean Innovation talks is acting as a curator and finding qualified speakers and content. From a participation side, we need to guarantee each topic is worthy of people’s time, so they will be willing to take half an hour out of their daily work to attend and hopefully continue to come back and recommend it to others.

Loai: Product development at LexisNexis is based on a very traditional process: create roadmaps, develop and release, rinse and repeat. This process does not always lend itself to innovation.  In this cycle, people might not see the value of Lean Innovation or some of the activities we do. It really comes down to changing our DNA and start innovating.

Michael: Culture change is just hard and ultimately, that’s what we’re after: for individuals to change and the overall culture to change as a result. It’s easy to talk about being experimental and being innovative, but it can be difficult to actually practice that.


What do you wish others knew about Lean Innovation?

Murali: I think there is a misconception that this is some sort of magical process that will fix all issues. I think Lean Innovation only works well for specific problems.

Shell: I think nowadays when people hear anything innovation-related, they feel it’s all just buzzwords. We hear them all the time and it’s just another trend that will go away eventually. We really want to make a difference with this program through a culture change and people’s proactive participation: whether it’s to present, socialize, share the information or provide support. Whatever you need to do towards that innovative idea, at each step you have people who really care about it, give input and efforts and push it along with you.

Where do you see this program going in the next couple years?

Loai: I see this being a part of our culture, something we can’t live without. Right now, it’s a foreign concept. People come in and do their day-to-day tasks and go home, but we want this to be a part of their culture and something they can look forward to when they come to work. I want Lean Innovation to be a major factor in propelling LexisNexis to number one on the list of companies to work for.

Murali: We also have a few goals within Hackathon. There are two flavors: One involves internal employees only and the other involves students from universities around the Triangle area. The internal Hackathon should become a part of the company’s culture DNA. It should provide product owners and engineers a chance to kick-start their ideas and put them in motion. With student Hackathons, we want to reach a point where it becomes an intercollegiate competition, the Hackathon competition of the Raleigh/Durham area. Last year we had three schools: NC State, UNC, and Clemson. This year we plan to take it to the next level by cementing it as a traditional annual tech event and with more schools participating in it, where students and talent come to LexisNexis. We want this to be something they can identify our company by.

Michael: We have more people starting to do experiments and talks and Hackathons. We see a level of cross-teamwork, teams from different products being more engaged with each other and aware of what everyone is doing.

Shell: I understand that nothing will last forever.  But through the existence of the Lean Innovation program, long or short, we hope that people will gradually realize the power of “get it done.” Our idea might not be perfect, but with the right attitude and method, and the spirit of perseverance, we can continuously improve and achieve the end goal.


The Faces Behind Lean Innovation


Meet Loai Alsalti:

The Senior Director of Product Development Software Engineering for InterAction and Small Law and a big fan of corny 80s horror movies, particularly “The Evil Dead.” When asked what motivates him, Loai says it’s his family. “I want to set an example. One of my things is being positive no matter what. I try to control my attitude and not let other things control it and I want to show that to my kids.” No surprise that one of his hidden talents happens to be mediating, conflict resolution, and bringing people together. One of Loai’s favorite foods is a T-bone. Fun fact: His nickname used to be T-Bone (does anyone know why? I’m curious!). When I asked if Loai could have dinner with anyone, who would it be, he said Richard Branson, “especially if it was on his island!” Loai says Branson understands at the executive level how people work and how to keep them motivated.

Loai Alsalti’s LinkedIn

Meet Shell Zhu:

The Senior UX Designer for CounselLink and a master of cooking spare ribs. Shell says she cooks ribs just about every week. So, if you need any spare ribs tips, you know who to go to! Shell has a great appetite for food and says she would never say no to any dessert. And I’m right there with you, Shell! Something people may not know about Shell is that she grew up in a very small village in China. “It’s probably hard for people to imagine, but when I was 7 or 8 years old, we didn’t even have running water in our house. That was the lifestyle I was leading when I was a child. And that’s what motivates me, gives me perspective. Living in such a small village, a lot of my childhood friends are still in that village and they’ve never gotten the chance to step outside of that area. Now suddenly, I have a lot more opportunity and that motivates me. I have to achieve a lot more.” Very admirable.

Shell Zhu’s LinkedIn

Meet Michael Etgen:

The Product Manager for NARS Research Solutions. When he’s not practicing yoga, you can find Michael listening to one of many science-related podcasts. When asked who he would have dinner with if he had the opportunity, Michael chose Sean Carroll. “He is a cosmologist and theoretical astrophysicist. I’ve listened to several podcast interviews with him recently and for who he is and how intelligent he is, he’s probably one of the most conversational people you’ll ever meet, which is pretty rare.” It’s also no surprise that Michael’s favorite movie is “2001: A Space Odyssey.” He says it’s certainly science fiction, but the way the movie was created, it was pretty true to what being in space is really like.

Michael Etgen’s LinkedIn

Meet Murali Naik:

The Manager for Product Development for Small Law and a big foodie, not to mention your go-to source for finding the best sweet corn chicken soup in the area. But don’t fret vegetarians – as a fellow foodie and vegetarian, I thought I was going to have to miss out – there is also a sweet corn soup! He highly recommends Inchin Bamboo Garden in Morrisville. Like Loai, Murali is a big fan of movies and not just 80s horror films. You name it, he’s probably seen it. He also has a fascination for bikes. Not bicycles, mind you, motorcycles. Sounds like Murali has got a wild hair in him! “I used to participate actively in rallies in India and organize them,” he told me. Although this was almost 20 years ago, I had to ask if Murali could still pull off a wheelie. He says it’s been awhile since he’s done one, but he’s confident.

Murali Naik’s LinkedIn



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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

25-Car Pileup on I-10 in New Mexico Leaves Six Dead

Six are dead and dozens more injured after a 25-vehicle pileup on Interstate 10 near Lordsburg, New Mexico. A dust storm kicked up Monday evening reducing visibility, which led to the pileup. The crash included a mix of commercial vehicles,

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Monday, June 19, 2017

CounselLink Conference 2017: Insights from Raleigh

CounselLink Conference 2017-1

Another awesome CounselLink Conference is in the books! It is always great when we get our customers together, but this year was even more special because we were able to have everyone gather in our own backyard. The CounselLink team is honored to be a part of the LexisNexis Technology Center in Raleigh, which is truly a place of collaboration and innovation. I was excited to share that with our clients since that is what the CounselLink Conference is all about – partnering to drive progress. Each year I walk away with new insights and ideas, and I wanted to share what was top of mind for me.

CounselLink Conference 2017-2

The Naïve Question

We had a fascinating key speaker, Paul DePodesta, currently with the Cleveland Browns and formerly with the Oakland A’s, where he was profiled in the book and later the movie, Moneyball. I’m thrilled he was able to join us this year. One thing that really struck me from his speech was the notion of the naïve question: “if we weren’t already doing it this way, is this where we would start?” What a simple, yet powerful question. Too often we try to work around our processes rather than make our processes work for us. In the sometimes slow-to-change legal industry, it is up to us to be the change agents. I will be introducing the naïve question to my team, and I challenge all of you to do the same.

CounselLink Conference 2017-3

Power of Data

Beyond sessions explicitly about reporting and analytics, data came up in almost every discussion. It’s at our fingertips, but how we use it is what’s really important. Between Paul DePodesta, our clients and our own CounselLink experts I learned so many new ways to look at data. We have been investing heavily in this area, so it was exciting to hear how our customers have been applying it. One of our customers showed me how she frequently accesses all Counsellink reports from her iPhone so she can always provide answers to the key questions that her General Counsel and others in the department need to know to make timely and informed decisions.

CounselLink Conference 2017-4

Be the Change

My colleague, Dan Ruderman, made a poignant statement in his panel discussion, Building a Diversity Program. “If the people of power don’t make a change nothing will get done.” This really hit home for me as it relates to a lot of the work LexisNexis is doing to advance the rule of law. We all have power of some kind – whether it be hiring power, spend power, power of influence, etc. – and it is up to us to use it to drive the change we want to see.

CounselLink Conference 2017-4

Thanks to everyone who was able to make it to the CounselLink Conference. Not only did I learn from each of you, we also had a lot of fun. I look forward to next year!


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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Making the business case for CRM in your firm

It’s no surprise that the leadership of most law and professional services firms set goals and strategies to grow profits and revenues, and win more new business. And most firm leaders realize there is no better way to grow the firm than to build stronger, more personalized relationships with the right clients and prospects.

In today’s competitive professional services environment, it’s critical to completely understand each prospect’s and client’s business in order to align the right services and firm expertise to win their business – and then exceed their expectations. Clients expect you to know their business well enough to provide the services they need now and anticipate what they may need six months from now.

And this level of customer insight is difficult to achieve without a strong strategic commitment to customer relationship management (CRM). That’s why it’s important to build a strong business case that explains the value of CRM for achieving the firm’s strategic objectives.


Align CRM with the firm’s strategic goals

When building the business case for CRM in your firm, it’s important to identify the firm’s strategic goals and show how a CRM and business development solution can help the firm achieve these objectives. For example, let’s explore some of the possible value drivers to include in the business case assuming the firm’s goals are to:

  • Increase profits
  • Increase revenues
  • Improve the efficiency of operations

The value of accurate, easy-to-access contact information

Although accurate and comprehensive contact data is important to help your firm build better client relationships, most firms without CRM are wasting valuable time and resources updating contact spreadsheets or email lists that are difficult to maintain and share across the firm.

Capturing clean contact data is critical to a firm’s ability to build the successful relationships your firm needs to meet its strategic growth objectives. A CRM solution will help your firm refine and automate contact data collection processes, ensuring that the relevant client and prospect information is centralized, accurate and accessible to the entire practice.

Centralizing contact management with CRM helps your firm achieve the efficiency and growth objectives. That’s why a good business case for CRM quantifies the time and resources wasted throughout the firm with manual processes and also highlights the impact of building strong relationships on firm growth.

The value of rapid access to relationship insights

As firms grow, their expanding network of relationships becomes an important competitive advantage for business development. But without immediate access to relationship information, leveraging this firm asset effectively is nearly impossible. In an organization without CRM, it’s fairly common for a professional trying to win new business to send out a mass email to other firm members asking if anyone has a relationship with the key decision makers. These email chains become a drain on efficiency as the sender wastes time waiting for a response and the rest of the firm spends valuable time reading the message.

When building the business case for CRM, it’s important to include the revenue and profitability impact of rapid access to the right firm relationships that can help the firm win business opportunities.

The value of more efficient and effective marketing

Without CRM, a firm’s marketing efforts may be poorly targeted and inefficient, so it’s important to include the impact marketing efficiency and effectiveness in the business case for CRM. First, you need the right target list to make marketing work and if CRM data is accurate and comprehensive, then your marketing programs will be more effective.

One firm new to CRM is now inviting fewer people to events but actually increasing event attendance and results because of a better targeted marketing list. Proper communication and follow-up makes a difference in event ROI and this firm’s lawyers now recognize the impact of CRM. In addition, their event invitation process has also been streamlined. After implementing CRM, the firm was able to eliminate spreadsheet proliferation, reduce manual effort, and make information reusable.

In order to build a strong business case for CRM, quantify the value of the time savings and productivity boost for the marketing department and explain the potential impact on the firm’s strategic goals around revenues, profits and efficiency.

Build your business case

If your firm is struggling to grow without CRM, the best approach is to build and present a business case aligned to the firm’s strategic goals. Certainly, there are many additional CRM value drivers beyond the possibilities mentioned here that you can include in your firm’s business justification for CRM. What’s most important is the ability of the business case to clearly articulate the role of CRM in the achievement of the firm’s strategic goals and objectives.


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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Resistance is Futile: Work with Human Nature to Manage Change Successfully


No one likes change. Just ask the folks that developed New! Coke all those years ago.

But change we must to keep pace with the world.

Never has that been more true than in law firms. Traditionally thought of as one of the most change-averse industries, the most successful firms today have not only adopted new technologies to keep pace with their competitors, they’ve embraced them to separate themselves from the pack.

And the rest of the pack? Let’s take a look at one of the big differences

Like every type of business, law firms can plod through a range of intense changes, from reorganizations to new software implementations to quality-improvement projects.

Most rely on strong project managers to steer the process and people for these costly projects, but good project management can quickly go bad. Each person tends to take their own piece of the project and break it down into their own island. With no focus on the big picture or vision for the end goal, the project degrades into disjointed silos, much to the detriment of end-user adoption.

As I wrote in 2014, lack of employee buy-in is the single biggest challenge for implementing a CRM program.

The usual recommendations for punching up interest and generating excitement for a new rollout may include organizing a contest or hosting lunch-n-learns to help employees build their skills. But without strong leadership or managerial coaching, old habits return and users may revert to their former processes, leaving the change to wither and fade from memory.

It’s only when organizations understand why users aren’t adopting a new technology or process, then learn to work with human nature instead of against it that they begin to see success in end-user adoption.

That’s what change management is about: Understanding the natural resistance to change, along with the most effective ways to manage it.

Rather than waiting for resistance to start before employing change management techniques, though, you can increase the success of end-user adoption by applying effective techniques from the very beginning.  Here are some tips:

Objective Change Management Focus
Prepare users for the changes Develop a communication plan that is more than just telling someone what you want them to do. Effective communication targets the impact for each audience and focuses on what they care about and need to know.
Anticipate pushback or passive resistance to the new process Proactively solicit input from resistors early in the project. Act on this knowledge early, before the resistance makes an impact.
Plan your project through the lens of user adoption instead of focusing on the technology Integrate the communication and resistance plans with the end-user training plan. These plans need to work in unison with project activities.

Successful end-user adoption cannot happen without a comprehensive change management plan. Armed with data and insight on the source of resistance, strong change managers can address objections and motivate employees throughout the change process.


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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Texas Enacts Ban On Texting and Driving

Texas Governor, Greg Abbot, signed the Alex Brown Memorial Act Tuesday, also known as the “texting bill” or the “texting-and-driving bill.” The bill is an important step forward in Texas driving safety laws, and comes after several attempts to pass

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Friday, June 2, 2017

California Can Force Monsanto To Warn Customers About Cancer

A California judge has ruled that California can legally force Monsanto to put labels on its Roundup products that warn people of the cancer risks associated with exposure to the chemical. Monsanto is the largest agricultural chemical company in the world

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