The Contract Lifecycle Management (“CLM”) market is in full bloom. The first wave of CLM deployments will soon come to an end, and many of the largest global enterprises will be using this kind of software.   Further, we are now observing more and more interest in this type of automation from middle-size companies as well. Early adopters are now ‘testing the waters’ and preparing their organizations for inevitable changes in the contract management process. These companies usually have much smaller budgets than the above-mentioned global enterprises and are very interested in best practices and lessons learned from their ‘older brothers’. Despite all this interest and energy, there are still many implementations that don’t go well.  Poor adoption, unrealized business case, lack of expansion are common problems that have plagued all CLM tools.  Here, I would like to share some of my experiences and tips based upon working for the last 7 years in this area.

1. Don't guess, ask

First of all, you have to ask yourself a simple question: Why? (thank you, Simon Sinek)

Why do you want to implement a CLM system? Efficiency, savings, better reporting are the more common answers. They all make sense, but how to make sure you will achieve it?

You would probably say: recognize problems and pain points in the contracting process and fix them. It sounds simple, but I observe one common issue during this phase. The conversations about the scope and functionalities of the future system are taken on one level too high. I agree that the management has to make a final decision about the scope, but they should be making it based on the real-life data, not educated guess or “instinct”.

The best thing you can do is to ask your future users about the list of the pain points, bottlenecks and any other technical obstacles that negatively impacted the current contracting process. A simple survey from the stakeholders and users is usually good enough to gather all the information you need. Once you have the results, consult users one more time to prioritize issues from the critical ones and identify quick wins.

Sounds obvious, right? But I have seen too many projects having problems because of this simple step that I had to mention here.

2. Prove the value

There is a visible trend in the CLM market, which I think makes a lot of sense. Many companies want to start small with the pilot, prove the value and the assumptions, get users’ buy-in, and roll it out to the whole organization when it is ready and steady. Software providers are not equally enthusiastic when they hear this idea so if you want to go this route (which I strongly recommend), make sure to put the pilot as one of the crucial requirements during the RFP process.  In the end, the software company wants a successful implementation too.

Choosing the scope of a pilot is one of the most important decisions you can make during CLM implementation. Remember, you are not building a Proof of Concept (which is just a virtual CLM playground); you are trying to bring real value to the users. It must solve real problems, and if successful, it will be your baseline for future phases. You will be using it as a demo to get buy-in from the other stakeholders and  get an additional budget for further expansion in your organization.

You should use the list of the pain points gathered in the previous phase and transform them into the list of your KPI’s. Measuring these KPI’s during the pilot will give you the answer you are looking for: is this new CLM going to improve user experience in the contracting process?  If the pilot didn’t fix it in one department, why do you think these problems will be fixed later during global rollout?

3. Diversified team

Remember, you can’t do this alone. A small ‘core team’ with people from different Business Units can make a real difference. It will combine different skillsets and experience, and time allocated to be spent on this project. This team has to be present and active and must be given authority to make quick decisions.

Many of them will be made every day, especially if you work in the Agile or Hybrid Agile mode (which are highly recommended). Today you decide, i.e. about the approval path, tomorrow the team configures it in the tool; the following day, we review it, give feedback and the circle repeats.

You can’t overestimate the relevance of this point.  The final result is highly dependent on the people involved in the project. You can read more about it in one of Craig’s Conte articles available here.

4. 5P

‘Proper Preparations Prevent Poor Performance’ – James Bakes, former US Secretary of State

You can print the above famous 5P rule and stick it to the wall over your desk; this should be your motto during CLM implementation. It works in real life too.  Once you officially start the deployment, even if this is just a pilot, you will be working under time pressure. There is a significant amount of work that can be a game-changer once completed before the start.- Contract Templates - everybody knows these are needed, but do you know which ones you want to use during your pilot? Are you sure they are up to date and approved by Legal?

Do you know what the latest reporting requirements are? Do you have the list of all data points we will be gathering for compliance and audit? Are you sure about the approval path and all the conditions and thresholds that must be considered?

James Baker is 100% right – Proper Preparations Prevent Poor Performance. Collect all needed pieces of puzzles early enough, and you will avoid ‘Panic Management’ later

5. Done is better than perfect 

I know this is very tempting to cover all the exceptions and solve all the problems at once, but I can tell you from my experience – it doesn’t work this way.

Your goal should be delivering Minimum Viable Product quickly rather than aiming for perfection.

Cut corners, focus on the issues you want to fix; everything else can wait. Users are just waiting for a positive change. If they see that the system solves real problems and make their life easier, they will gladly wait for the second phase to get even more.

The worst thing that can happen is to set user expectations on a high level, let users wait for months or even years for the new CLM system and then, in the end, underdeliver, providing a solution to problems that don’t exist anymore…

6. Marketing & User Adoption

What is, in your opinion, the successful implementation of an IT system? Would you call a success the deployment of a perfect CLM system where everything works, but no one is using it?

I think you know where I am going with this. Building a perfect product is one thing; encouraging clients to buy it and use it is, at least, equally tricky.

Communication is critical at every stage of the deployment. Keep your future users updated, use marketing tricks, send an email, involve them in testing, do everything you can to ‘create the hype’ around the new CLM. Learn from the movie industry. They always start promoting a new movie with a short teaser, then a trailer, they use controlled ‘information leakage’ and finally, when everybody simply can’t wait to see the new movie, it enters the cinemas with the big premiere event.

7. Stick to the plan 

One of Murphy’s Law variations says that it will start changing by itself if you change your Go-Live date once. There are always good reasons why we need a little bit more time to complete just one more little requirement and push our Go-Live date a little bit further, just two weeks, just one more month…

This approach usually doesn’t work, and what is even worse, it can destroy all the efforts put into the marketing campaign. The positive hype about the incoming tool can vanish in seconds, and it will be challenging to bring it back again. Stick to the plan and follow the simple guideline from the previous point: Done is better than Perfect.

Now, I don’t want anyone to think that this is all you need and for sure the devil can be in the details.   But from my experience, if you keep to these seven ideas, you will be in a much better place.  And if you need help, you certainly know where to call.