Q&A: Stu Craft Discusses Legal Tech Innovation
Innovation means many things to different people. At FTI Technology, innovation is about collaboration, foreseeing problems before they arise and creating solutions that can be leveraged proactively to help clients reduce risk. In this Q&A, Managing Director and e-discovery expert Stu Craft discusses how he sees innovation progressing in the legal technology space.
Stu, you’ve spent your career in software development and legal tech. How do you define innovation?
To me, innovation means continually improving a product or process. In the mainstream, it’s common to focus innovation on new solutions, but I see it somewhat differently. It’s really more about an evolution that addresses real problems. This could mean using an existing solution in a different context, or simply identifying that existing solutions are adequate, but making sure the people using them are trained to use it correctly and achieve the desired outcomes.
I also love the KISS acronym (keep it simple stupid). It’s helped me on more than one occasion when I have gone down a rabbit hole and begun to overcomplicate a solution.
So, how do you keep focused on the problems that need solving, rather than being distracted by the bright and shiny objects?
In our role as consultants, we have to listen to internal and client issues — and that’s what keeps me and my team focused on the real issues. It's so important to innovate on what people actually need, not what you think they need. This doesn't mean never presenting new or novel solutions, but it’s about taking the time to understand what a team or client really requires in any given scenario. Usually, that’s as simple as taking an agile approach, where prototypes are created and iterated on quickly, so results can be realized faster. Truthfully, sometimes real innovation can actually lead to a very boring solution technically speaking. The excitement comes from the outcomes (such as saving individuals significant amounts of time on mundane tasks).
There has to be a lot of mistakes in that process too, right?
If you’re trying to do new things, the law of averages suggests you won't be right all the time. I think it’s important to look for the positives in solutions and if something didn't work this time, you have simply found another thing to take off your list of possible solutions. If you investigate what was and wasn’t successful in that solution it will also help you move closer to a better one.
Ultimately, you can’t innovate if you’re afraid to fail, because that’s how learning happens. At the same time, I believe in being eternally optimistic. Problems can be solved. Ensuring you learn from situations and identity quickly when a solution isn't right is the key.
How do you do that? How do you measure success?
Sometimes it can be hard to measure how effective a new innovation is. Often, outcomes of a solution are not quantifiable, or they don't relate to a direct outcome. For instance, an innovation to save a few minutes each time a task is run may not be obvious the first few times through. However, if that task is repeated hundreds or even thousands of times a month, those few minutes really start to make a meaningful difference. Regular check-in points with a client to gain feedback, and identifying key results for the solution that can be tracked during the development, will help with benchmarking.
What’s your approach to distilling this to your team?
Working in a team designed to come up with new solutions and actively seeking new problems to solve can lead to scope creep and a broad view (rather than laser focus). It's helpful to identify key areas or factors that are the objectives of the innovation, and ensure these are shared and agreed upon within the team. Following these values religiously helps identify problems and keep everyone focused, working together.
What parting advice do you have for legal tech innovators?
Don't innovate for the sake of it. Sometimes people look for overcomplicated technical solutions when an existing workflow with some additional training would suffice. Or there may be an existing solution in a platform they are just not aware of. Being a good innovator means also understanding the platforms in use in your organisation, so you do not end up reinventing a perfectly functional wheel.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.