What is the most frustrating thing when you have spent months overhauling and then launching a new contract lifecycle management (CLM) solution? Nobody using it! Or, more likely, a few people are using it but most people are hesitating to change their current processes and start using the new solution. I hear this frustration in contract management solutions as well as other large project implementations. As I sat down to think about this challenge, I read many articles about the best business practices to apply to avoid this. These articles focused on bringing business process management to this process, which is valuable, but even with those processes, your implementation could be left with very little adoption.
Then I had a light bulb moment – why not pull from a discipline whose main focus is to resonate with its clients and users – product management. It wasn’t a far reach given my product management background and certification. Product managers do a lot of different things at different organizations but I think most people would agree that they play a key role in building and launching a successful product. More specifically, a product manager is tasked with knowing her or his customer base so well that he or she can speak for them and direct the development of a product into one that resonates with its users. A product that resonates with users is more highly adopted and therefore, typically seen as more successful. So what can we, in legal operations, learn from this field?
1. Focus on what really matters to your users and potential users
Start by interviewing people who are directly involved with the contract management process as well as some people who are adjacent to the contract management process. Make sure to capture the views of people close to contracts (e.g. attorneys), as well as those who rely on the outputs of those contracts (e.g. finance and sales). Ask about each person’s main goal in contract management and what is preventing them from achieving that goal. Specific to CLM solutions, metadata can be critical to understand and map early, so I would recommend asking people what metadata they rely on when searching for contracts.
In these interviews, make sure you understand the impact of any contract management challenges raised in the interviews. You may hear a variety of complaints, but how many of those are frustrations that make the process inefficient versus just minor grumblings. When someone mentions an issue, you should always ask them to quantify, on a scale of 1-10, how big an impact that problem has in their daily life. You should also ask how pervasive the problem is, on a scale of 1-10, across their peers. This will allow you to more quickly identify the real issues that will be impactful to solve. For example, someone may be frustrated that they have to log in to a different technology to manage a contract workflow. Another person may be frustrated that they cannot tie together later revisions to contracts, such as renewals, pricing, or amendments. By asking for the impact during the interviews, you will likely learn that the technology switching challenge is a 2 out of 10 on the impact scale whereas the issue of the later revision is a 9 out of 10. You can prioritize solving for the latter and have tremendous business impact and avoid mistakes by other departments relying on outdated terms.
2. Launch a beta solution for a handful of users
Most products have some sort of test user group that is able to provide feedback on releases early. Since you likely are not engineering your own CLM, I would recommend gathering a small group of “early adopters” to test your new CLM solution in three ways:
- First, you should map out your ideal state process. Bring this group together to talk through that ideal state and suggest any tweaks.
- Second, when you have narrowed your technology selection to one or two technologies, you can bring the group together to test those technologies.
- Finally, this group should be your first users of the final solution, the technology and process combined, once implemented.
This may be self evident, but be sure to include yourself in the testing group. Often people feel like they are running the project so they should not participate in the feedback. However, given the deep immersion in the contract management process and your knowledge of the organization, your feedback is critical to shaping the right solution.
3. Use your personas in communications
Communicating about your solution is a critical step in any CLM solution. That communication is what gets users using the solution and what jump starts change. Making this communication effective can be daunting, but here is the product management formula. Start with the challenges that your users shared with you. When they see their voices reflected, they will immediately be interested in the message. Next, state in 1-2 sentences how you have solved the challenge. When people see that a challenge they have raised has been solved, it is highly likely that they will adopt the new solution. With this, you should have a 3 sentence “elevator pitch” that connects with your intended audience. If appropriate for your organization, you could also consider shortening those three sentences to a tagline that could be used within the legal department to give visibility to the project. A great example of a tagline was Apple’s iPod: “1,000 songs in your pocket.” This was a short statement showing how the product solved the problem. Something similar in the CLM space could be “your contracts, and revisions, in one place” or “automating the contracts that don’t need your attention.”
4. Check in on user satisfaction
Remember that your job is not finished upon implementation. Continue to check in with your users to see how things are going. When checking in, the best thing to do is a survey so you can measure the response empirically. The most common question to ask in a customer satisfaction survey is how satisfied they are with the solution on a scale of 1-5. You can follow that up by asking what would improve their satisfaction.
The survey can be helpful to understand how the solution is working as well as a way to gather areas of improvement. Before making any changes, however, I would recommend doing some interviews to understand the impact and pervasiveness of the issues so you can determine what changes are needed.
There are certainly dozens of things we can all learn from other disciplines. From this article, I hope you’ve been able to take away 3-4 from the world of product management. If you have other tips that you have picked up from other disciplines, I would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Typical fields include party name, party state, contract type, contract expiration date, notification period (to the extent different, next contract review date), contract amount (or at least a small/med/large designation), internal legal contact, department, limitation of liabilities, and early payment.