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Arbitration Project Management

Where cost and efficiency are constant concerns for parties in arbitration, project management offers solutions.

Project management and arbitration have a lot in common, but the two worlds do not seem to overlap with much frequency. This is unfortunate because the precepts of project management offer many opportunities for arbitrators to streamline the process and carefully monitor its efficiency. This post will outline the parallels between a "project" and and an arbitration and explain how project management and arbitration work together very well. It will also serve as the first of a series of posts to review the benefits of Arbitration Project Management.

As an initial matter, let's define some key terms.

  1. Project is defined by the Association for Project Management (APM) as "a unique, transient endeavour, undertaken to achieve planned objectives, which could be defined in terms of outputs, outcomes or benefits. A project is usually deemed to be a success if it achieves the objectives according to their acceptance criteria, within an agreed timescale and budget."

  2. Further, APM describes project management as "the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives."

  3. Finally, a project manager is "responsible for day-to-day management of the project and must be competent in managing the six aspects of a project, i.e. scope, schedule, finance, risk, quality and resources. Well-developed interpersonal skills such as leadership, communication and conflict management are also vitally important."

This is all well and good, you may be thinking, but what does it have to do with arbitration, which is generally not regarded as a "project"?

I would argue that an arbitral process can easily be considered a project, with arbitrators as the project managers who are accountable for ensuring its efficiency and ultimate success. To me, the similarities between these two disciplines are abundant.

From the parties' perspective, an arbitration is certainly a unique endeavor that should be short-lived, much like a project. Further, the arbitration has likely been undertaken by parties to achieve their objectives of resolving a dispute through a flexible process that offers fairness, confidentiality, efficiency, and finality, among other concerns. An arbitration, much like a project, is deemed a success by parties if it achieves these objectives.

Day-to-day management of the arbitration/project is the responsibility of arbitrators, who must be competent in managing all aspects of the process, including:

  1. Scope: the issues presented and parties to the controversy are properly before the arbitrator

  2. Schedule: time frames and deadlines are clearly set and enforced

  3. Finance: process proportionality is addressed

  4. Risk: efforts are made to anticipate events that may hinder or derail the process, and manage any issues that do arise

  5. Quality: from initial preliminary hearings to information exchange, hearing, and final award, attention to detail, ensuring a fair process, and a thorough, well-reasoned output are paramount concerns

Softer skills - including an arbitrator's ability to lead, serve as a constant source of clear communication, and constructively manage conflict as it arises - are also important characteristics of the project manager/arbitrator that drive achievement of the project objectives.

In sum, arbitration can easily fit within the definition of a project and arbitrators can deploy project management techniques to manage the arbitration.

Next week's post will provide a fuller overview project management components and how they may be applied to an arbitration to protect the efficiency and economy that parties seek.

Please note that my approach to Arbitration Project Management is further detailed in my American Arbitration Association (AAA) panelist video interview, which is available upon request to the AAA.


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