2 October 2015

Make Process the Workhorse & Don’t Put the Technology Cart in Front

It is easy to imagine improving processes and updating technology next week, next month, next quarter. In these mental flights of fancy, improvement initiatives are strategically sequenced and flawlessly executed.

Reality is a lot messier. What we often forget is that our day-to-day doesn’t magically stop when we kick off a change project. It doesn’t even slow down. Pressure to resolve critical issues right now, competing priorities and deadlines, and core workstreams falling off schedule: these all take their toll. Even a fairly routine project begins to feel like an impossible mission, and often, the completion date becomes more important than the initial objective.

Beware the pitfalls of solution jumping

Business moves faster these days, or at least it seems that way. Information and communications are certainly moving faster and all of us are becoming used to on-demand purchasing.

Instant gratification works when we need a cab or groceries, but it has no role in real solutions to complex business problems. One of the biggest obstacles facing change management and process improvement is the lure of a quick solution today.

We owe it to our clients, and our teams, to take a look at the root causes and deliver solutions that address them for the long run. That means taking a holistic view to design meaningful solutions that rethink the current state and lay a foundation that can be extended and scaled. This, of course, is easier said than done.

A basic principle of a Lean Six Sigma approach is to avoid the tendency for “solution jumping” and take a step back to focus on the root cause of a problem. Jumping in with a solution does not provide the big picture necessary to get to the heart of why the problem exists. That approach does not arm people with the tools needed to best address a problem and ensure it is fully resolved moving forward.  

Solving it quickly can become more important than solving it correctly. Lawyers are amongst the greatest offenders of this solution jumping. It is not surprising—lawyers are trained to be problem solvers, many are skilled crisis managers, and wanting a solve a problem is a good thing. But applying a crisis management mentality to infrastructure projects can lead to wastes of resources, time, and money.

As technology promises to change our world, the ever-increasing emphasis on speed can leave us expecting to solve all our problems at the click of a button—and that expectation can lead your improvement projects astray.

A case in point: contract management

Technology can do amazing things for an organization, but only if implemented properly. Take, for example, contract management. A company knows that their contracts are disorganized and inconsistent—scattered across offices, standard templates are being ignored, no one is tracking obligations or deadlines. They are worried about their indemnification risks; they have an upcoming reorganization being considered and no visibility into change of control provisions they’ve agreed to; or they simply cannot find what they need to manage a vendor relationship. These are all common problems.

And a potential solution posed to each and every single problem? Buy a contract management system and all those problems will just disappear.

Organizations can spend upwards of seven figures purchasing state-of-the-art contract management systems with every bell and whistle that one can imagine. And contract management systems can certainly be game changers for legal teams looking for organization, visibility, consistency, reporting.

However, we often see legal teams plan to purchase a contract management system and distribute log-ins to the team without taking a step back to examine the workflows around the technology.  With an exploration of the organization’s processes and policies holistically, these teams may be spackling over cracks in the wall that run down to the foundation of their house.

It is critical to assess process to provide the best solution—why are contracts disorganized? Why don’t team members use templates? Why aren’t contract owners monitoring obligations and deadlines?  If there is not an optimal process in place to create and update templates, the team can be using outdated versions. If there is not an optimal process in place to monitor agreement deadlines, the system can send fancy reports to team members who don’t take required next steps. If no one is uploading extensions or statements of work, the technology won’t have the whole picture of the contracting relationship.

The technology may be able to create shortcuts or automate processes, but if those processes are inefficient or not updated—team members just do bad work faster.

Instead of looking for a quick solution, take the time to recognize the opportunity to develop and memorialize a better of way of operating. Ignoring process issues means that a new contract management system can’t deliver the type of comprehensive results that would be most beneficial. Any time a company is faced with complex business problems, looking at process first will provide the foundation necessary to identify and implement the best solution.