The biggest obstacle for most organisations seeking to improve their contracting process is simply knowing where to start.
Unsure which improvement projects to prioritise, which type(s) of technology to pursue and which vendors to speak to, improvement projects often take a back seat - usually at significant cost to the organisation, and despite practical solutions being readily available.
The process below will step you through what may feel like a daunting process, by breaking it down into manageable, actionable steps that should be within reach of most organisations.
As you will see, the technology aspect is only one part of the process.
1. Define the most immediate problem you'd like to solve.
The first step of any improvement process should be to define the specific problem you are trying to solve.
What's not working in your company as well as you would like?
- Does your organisation take too long to prepare, review, finalise and/or sign new contracts (whether supplier contracts or client/customer contracts)? Is this affecting profitability?
- Are senior resources spending too much time on contract-related issues, when they could add more value if they were doing something else?
- Are project teams not making the most of opportunities, by failing to administer contracts as well as they could?
- Is your legal team overwhelmed with contract-related issues, when at least some of these could be managed by the business?
Obviously, there may be others.
The important thing is to define the problem from a business perspective, as specifically as you can. The better your definition, the more successful your solution is likely to be.
Particularly if this is your first attempt at introducing tech into your processes, it's probably best to focus on one specific problem (rather than attempting to solve them all). Keeping the project to a manageable size will maximise your chances of success. Pick a problem that comes up regularly, and that will result in a meaningful benefit to the organisation when it is solved.
2. Map out your current process.
Once you have defined the problem you wish to target, you should be able to map out the process that is giving rise to the issue.
It's important to map this out in detail, including:
- the origin of the process,
- all people involved in the process,
- all documents or other tools used in the process,
- any technology used in the process, and
- the typical time spent at each step (and between each step) of the process.
It's also important to involve the different people involved at the different stages of the process, so that their perspectives can be included. This will ensure your process map is as accurate as it can be.
3. Identify the root cause(s) and the opportunity(ies).
Once you have a detailed map of your existing process, the root cause(s) of your problem should start to become apparent.
As you examine your process map, ask yourself 'why?', repeatedly. This will help you get to the bottom of the issue, instead of focusing on symptoms of what might be a bigger problem.
An accurate, detailed process map is a critical step, because:
- the root cause(s) of the issue might not be what you initially suspect them to be,
- it will allow you to critically evaluate the way you are currently doing things,
- there may be a range of potential solutions to different contributing causes, and
- the process map should help you identify where changes are likely to have the biggest impact.
4. Map out your desired (new) process.
Having identified root cause(s) and inefficiencies with your current process, the next step is to create a map of your desired (new) process.
It's at this point that you are likely to find yourself thinking about:
- redefining what should be done at each step of the process (for example, to avoid duplication, or to ensure each task is done by the most junior person capable of doing it properly),
- re-delegating tasks,
- setting rules and logic (for example, through internal policies),
- creating and/or amending documents that form part of the process (for examples, templates, user guides, playbooks, training material), and
- potential technology solutions.
You may also find that, even without introducing any new technology, implementing your redefined process and related support tools could make a significant positive impact on your organisation.
5. Source any necessary tech.
Armed with a detailed process map and a clear idea of what you are hoping to achieve, this is the point where it's time to start thinking about potential tech solutions.
Start by creating an inventory of your current tech. You may already have tools that are perfectly capable of doing the job (for example, if your business is using Microsoft 365). Large tech companies are constantly expanding their product suites offerings in an effort to compete with the infinite number of new products entering the market. There's a good chance that you already have at least some of what you'll need.
Then, speak to an expert who can help design an overarching tech solution for you. Ideally, this person should be independent of any particular vendor, and familiar with a range of products that might be suitable for you. In many cases, this person will be a legal ops or automation specialist. (We can help point you in the right direction if you're not sure where to start.)
The best product for one company might not be the best product for another. The right choice for you will depend on a range of factors, including:
- which tools you are already using,
- which problem(s) you are trying to solve,
- the size of your organisation,
- budgetary constraints, and
- the prospects of future tech enhancements and related projects.
6. Design, develop and test.
Once you have mapped out your desired process and identified the relevant tech solution, it's time to design, develop and test.
Someone from your organisation (potentially you) will need to remain heavily involved throughout, to ensure the implementation aligns for your desired process. Any tech solution will only do what you instruct it to do - so the design phase is critical, and often where a lot of time is spent (for any business improvement process).
Where any coding or software implementation is required, that is likely to be outsourced.
If you are wanting to automate a process that will involve your organisation accepting or seeking to transfer risk (eg contract creation or review, contract approval), it's absolutely critical that a trusted lawyer be involved in the design of the process, to ensure that:
- the process works as efficiently as it can, without creating an unacceptable level of risk,
- the organisation has a clear policy in relation to risk, and that this policy is implemented, and
- each person involved in the process has the necessary expertise or support to perform the specific tasks that are required of them.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to learn more about the work we do in this space.
Once you have designed and developed the new system, including any necessary support tools, it's obviously important to test it rigorously before rolling it out. Testing the new system on a live, pilot project (or projects) is always a good idea before a larger scale rollout.
7. Rollout, review and refine.
Don't expect the first iteration of your project to be perfect, particularly if it's your first attempt.
The nature of systems and technology is that things are always changing, and so there is always room for further improvement.
The key thing is to ensure that:
- your solution addresses the problem that you wished to address, and
- you continue to monitor the process to ensure it is working as intended, and as efficiently as it can.
Simply repeat the process described above to monitor and review your solution.
If you would like to learn more, or to simply discuss potential starting points for improving your contracting processes, please do not hesitate to contact us. We can help you with each step of the process described above. As an initial step, we are regularly engaged to facilitate workshops to help organisations discover where and how they can most efficiently improve their contracting processes.