The ultimate point of any manual or automated process is productivity.
Processes should be delivering efficiency and effectiveness through consistency of approach with coverage of the most likely scenarios to be dealt with. This simply means doing the same thing the same way everywhere it needs to be done to achieve the desired outcomes, while also allowing for treatment of certain exceptions.
The aim of processes and their repeatability has always been to make life easier for the people who have to follow them, to save time, reduce errors and risks, and provide an element of certainty about their outcomes.
The availability of workflow technologies for documenting and automating processes has significantly increased productivity for the people involved in the development and operational use of those processes.
Automation means that the details of process steps and individual activities don’t need to be remembered or looked up by the people involved, since guidance is provided all the way.
The automated flow can always be interrupted to perform activities that can only be done manually, then restarted at the appropriate step. Many useful supporting capabilities are typically provided with a workflow system, like measurement and automated alerting.
Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) is as process-driven as any other organisational activity.
With modern CLM systems providing a workflow engine purpose-built for dealing with contracts and related data in those CLM processes, Contract Managers are able to automate many of their standard activities, report on their performance, eliminate a lot of the manual drudge work, and quickly adapt their processes when circumstances or requirements change.
This article describes an approach for optimising and automating CLM processes, covering:
- The CLM system workflow engine
- Process optimisation
- Optimise, then automate
- CLM process automation priorities
The CLM system workflow engine
If the organisation manages its contracts using a CLM system with an embedded workflow engine such as that found in Gatekeeper, usage of that engine with its strong linkage to contracts should be preferred over any other generalised standalone workflow engine that might be available.
A CLM system workflow engine commonly has features like the following, with more regularly added:
- A structured, easy to use workflow design and build capability
- Collection and reporting of process transit-time statistics, with service level thresholds used to indicate performance levels achieved
- Automated alerts and reminders to process participants about activities they need to undertake
- Ability to return to an earlier step if a current step can’t be completed
- Sequential and parallel process activities
- Conditional logic allowing process elements to be activated or not
- Multiple process triggering options to describe situations where a workflow can be started automatically
- Use of checklists to provide a reminder and guide about any manual process activities that must be performed during an automated workflow
- Delegation of process responsibilities when people are absent.
A thorough understanding of the workflow engine’s features, capabilities and limits is required to help deliver the most appropriate, practical, flexible and easy to use workflows possible for the organisation’s CLM needs.
Make parallel and sequential approvals in Gatekeeper’s Kanban Workflow Engine
That understanding can be obtained through training in, mentoring about and practice with the workflow engine. It’s just another part of the installed CLM system that Contract Managers need to become totally familiar with and expert in to do their jobs properly. When necessary, external advice can always be obtained from the system’s supplier.
Improvement means to make something better. Optimisation means to make something the best it can be.
Optimisation is the preferred option for processes, simply because of the cumulative benefit of each little advantage, tangible and intangible, that can be delivered through the sheer volume of their usage.
Process optimisation often requires resolution of the tension between effectiveness and efficiency. An effective process is one that delivers the desired outcome, while an efficient process is one that produces an outcome in an optimal way. Ideally, all processes will be both effective and efficient, but if push comes to shove, effective is preferable to efficient.
Drivers for process optimisation have several sources and auditing your current contract management processes can help you to identify key areas.
Feedback from process users is enormously helpful in identifying deficiencies, errors, absurdities, friction points, instabilities, and all kinds of other operational issues with processes. It is often an excellent source of ideas for optimisation.
For process owners, issues with processes and their activities, built-in process performance metrics and other indicators must be analysed for any insights they contain about delays, bottlenecks, persistent errors or quality problems.
What might be happening or planned to happen internally and externally to the organisation might also need to be considered.
To keep the Law of Unintended Consequences at bay, any ideas for optimising a process should be thoroughly road-tested with its various stakeholders and expected users. Introducing a new set of issues when fixing existing issues is never appreciated.
Due to the wide variety of potential process issues, optimising a process requires a robust and systematic approach to get the best outcomes. A number of optimisation approaches are available in the marketplace, such as Lean for finding and removing waste, and Six Sigma for decreasing defects, both of which focus on improving efficiency.
Optimise, then automate
When the opportunity arises to automate a manual CLM process, it makes sense to optimise it first, with automation in mind.
Process optimisation is about removing anything unnecessary, introducing anything necessary that’s missing, decreasing process time, getting a better outcome, and producing meaningful performance figures.
In-depth knowledge is needed about the purpose and intent of the manual process, what it does and how it does it, and what it doesn’t do but needs to. Then, based on what the CLM system’s workflow engine can and can’t do, Contract Managers can work on identifying how the process can be adapted and tweaked when implemented using workflow.
A good place to start is considering if each manual component can be eliminated completely or replaced with a hands-free technology solution of some kind.
Another avenue is providing visibility of process activity completion progress, to highlight any delays that could need some hurry-up applied. Waiting on a process to complete is much more bearable when information about the state of play doesn’t entail additional waiting on the responsible people to provide a status update.
Manual process activities are most often performed sequentially. Workflow engines can usually run activities in parallel where practical, significantly reducing process duration.
Where a process ends up with a mix of manual and automated activities, checklists of all the manual processes to be performed can be established, requiring a process user to confirm completion of those activities before continuing with any following automated activities.
Business rules can be established in a workflow and automatically applied to determine if and when a particular process or process step should be activated. An example is obtaining CEO approval of a contract only when its value exceeds a certain limit. Embedding such rules directly into processes removes reliance on human memory.
See where a contract is and who has responsibility for its progress with Gatekeeper
Process bottlenecks in manual processes can occur when the responsible people are unable to perform their specific activities. Others waiting down the line too often have no way to discover exactly what is going on, why, or when they will get what they expect from the process.
Workflow engines can readily deal with such bottleneck situations by automatic rerouting of activities to a backup person in the absence of the usual responsible person after some configurable time limit.
CLM processes might need to be triggered by circumstances, such as the occurrence of a certain date or event, the passage of an interval of time, or a change in value of certain contract information. Often difficult or impossible to deal with in manual processes, workflow engines can accommodate them easily, automatically initiating the relevant processes when needed, and advising the responsible people.
CLM process automation priorities
A common tendency for using new technologies to overcome operational difficulties is to focus on the squeakiest wheel. That can be a fraught undertaking, as anything less than complete success, a fairly common outcome, can hamper the adoption of those technologies.
A more cautious approach is to start small and quietly on something that can still deliver value. This allows time to:
- Learn about the workflow engine’s operating approach and capabilities
- Adjust thinking from the manual mindset if necessary
- Figure out which process owners might want to participate in the kick-off work then get them onside and onboard
- Start work on a process prioritisation approach and a change management plan for the potentially affected community.
With a few runs on the board and confidence in both the capabilities of their CLM workflow technologies and their ability to deploy them effectively, the organisation’s Contract Managers can focus on establishing the criteria for prioritising the automation of all CLM processes needing attention.
This can be complicated. There could be a logical order of working through connected processes that has to be balanced against working on processes in critical need of attention due to the consequences of their deficiencies. Both might need to be worked on at the same time. Some processes might need to be modified in stages to accommodate such competing problems.
Standard approaches might be needed for doing the same things the same way everywhere to the extent possible, but with approved allowances for certain situations, say regional differences based on regulation or business custom. Consistent methods could be required for the collection, calculation and reporting of process performance data.
The organisation’s operating model, geographic footprint, the industries it operates in, the regulations it must comply with, influential vested interests and the level of CLM maturity are just some of the additional factors to be considered in a CLM process automation plan.
Process optimisation should always be on an organisation’s business agenda, at the business function level like CLM and the overall entity level. Constant change can upset established ways of doing things as well as providing opportunities for doing them better in some fashion.
It’s worth remembering that process automation is itself a form of optimisation. So too is the centralisation of CLM process knowledge in a comprehensive and comprehensible format inside a workflow. This alleviates the common problem with manual processes of not knowing where to find process documentation or if what can be found is current or correct.
The growing body of active contracts requiring the attention of Contract Managers cannot realistically be handled effectively and economically using purely manual processes beyond some relatively small percentage of the total number of those contracts.
Process optimisation and automation are the only way to go, and they shouldn’t be hamstrung by blind adherence to the way things have always been done.
To quote that great innovator and process optimiser Henry Ford: ‘Many people are busy trying to find better ways of doing things that should not have to be done at all. There is no progress in merely finding a better way to do a useless thing.’
If you would like more information about using workflows to automate your CLM processes, or how Gatekeeper can assist with those activities, then contact us today.