I find it helpful to put contract creation in a broader context by learning about different players in the contracts ecosystem. (See for example my Q&A with Ken Grady of SeyfarthLean Consulting LLC, here.) Recently I had a chance encounter with George Dunn, the founder and president of CRE8 Independent Consultants www.cre8inc.com. CRE8 helps companies improve their processes by identifying non-technology process changes and by helping them plan to go paperless. I thought it would be interesting to ask George some questions.
George: Yes it is. Although we examine many processes, organizations ask us to look at contracting when they feel it needs to be improved—be made more efficient, standardized, automated, and compliant.
Ken: Do you work in the area of contract creation?
George: No, we specialize in improving the overall process of receiving, routing, reviewing, approving, signing, and retaining or disposing of contracts. When it comes to improving the content of contracts, I would look to others—to specialists like you!—for that sort of expertise.
Ken: What are the biggest challenges that your clients face with the contract process?
George: The first challenge is to simply better understand their process. Many organizations only have a general grasp of the contract process. In particular, contracting is not so much a single process, but rather a collection of—depending on the company—from perhaps five to over 40 different processes, with each process containing 20 to 200 steps. That’s a total of 100 to 8,000 steps. Furthermore, an organization might process from 20 to over 60 types of contracts.
Problems relating to contract processes include lack of standardization, steps that don’t add value, delay, the need for rework, unnecessary authorizations, inefficient routing, and inconsistent automation, storage, and disposition.
Ken: Have you observed any difficulties in getting the different constituencies in the contract process—legal and procurement, or legal and contract-management—to work together effectively?
George: At the beginning of a project, I find that the internal groups (sales, procurement, operations, administration, information technology, audit, and legal) have different goals, processes, expectations, specialties, authority, and management. The goals of one group can conflict with the goals of other groups. For example, increased control (requested by CFO) can be at odds with greater efficiency (requested by operations).
This is why before we start any process redesign work for an organization, it’s important for us to help groups understand their current process and its strengths and weaknesses—we call that “establishing a baseline.” Without that, groups will feel that they haven’t been heard, and that can lead them to resist attempts to redesign the process. You also have to take into account constituencies outside a given organization (customers, vendors, other organizations, auditors, attorneys, the media, the public), as they too rely on, or have an effect on, processes.
Establishing a process baseline requires that we hold meetings to collect information from inside and outside the organization. It’s important to be objective during these meetings and to know exactly what you’re looking for. That’s easier for us, as outside consultants, specializing in process improvement, to achieve.
Ken: What type of process-improvement methodologies do you employ?
George: There are many different approaches, each involving different perspectives, methods, and tools. Here are some:
- Continuous process improvement (CPI). This concentrates on incremental improvements over time, with processes being constantly being evaluated and improved, as opposed to seeking a big one-time improvement.
- Business process management (BPM). This focuses on achieving innovation and flexibility through using process and technology changes.
- Re-engineering. This encourages companies to reconsider why they do what they do and encourages leaps forward, not incremental change.
- LEAN. This emphasizes reducing process waste to improve value to the customer. Waste can arise in transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-processing, over-production, and the rework or rescheduling of defects.
- Six Sigma. This looks to improve the process quality by identifying and removing anything that causes process defects and by reducing variability.
Ken: I’m a stranger to all these concepts, but I’m tempted to think that they involve applying faddish labels to common-sense solutions.
George: There’s perhaps some of that going on, but the labels and the related methodologies and tools help us communicate to clients how we’re proposing to tackle their process issues, and establish an approach that’s consistent and measurable.
Ken: How do you decide what method to use?
George: Before selecting a method, everyone—the facilitator and the relevant constituencies in the organization—has to agree on what level of change is needed (incremental to radical, narrow to broad, process-related or technology-related). As each technique applied will have a different effect it’s important to match the method used to the problem to be solved. Sometimes using a single methodology makes sense, sometimes a combination of approaches works best.
Ken: How do you help companies with paperless technologies?
George: Once we’ve helped an organization understand its process and devise a strategy for improving it, typically our next step is to determine if going paperless (involving automation for scanning, digital signatures, content management (ECM), collaboration, workflow, and retention or disposition) would be beneficial. We help the organization devise software-workflow maps (identifying how work will be routed), vendor request-for-proposal (RFP) practices, methodologies for assessing vendors, and quality-assurance strategies. We also help to update record retain-or-dispose schedules, policies, procedures, and governance.
Ken: What are some of the challenges of the work you do?
George: Often executives underestimate how complicated a process is, internal teams don’t agree what the problem is, IT doesn’t understand why technology isn’t the answer, and the records manager doesn’t understand how active records move through an organization.
To get the project started on the right foot, it’s important to have executives and teams work with us to determine the parameters of the project (reason, scope, resources required, timeframe, and budget). Also, getting team members to listen to each other is the first step to breaking down the silos between groups and developing an organization-wide process. Once the broad framework is in place, detailed maps can be created.
Ken: What’s the biggest satisfaction?
George: Helping a project move from initial planning to achieving results, watching team members present the baseline of the current process and how it should be redesigned, and working with teams to further improve the process, using paperless technologies.
Ken: Are there many companies like CRE8 out there?
George: Well, there’s certainly an ecosystem of consultants devoted to the contracting process, but you have quite a wide variety of approaches. Some are offshoots of law firms; they tend to be geared to the more purely “legal” component of the process. Others are committed to a specific technology, just as you’re committed to ContractExpress as your document-assembly technology of choice. I like to think that CRE8 is distinctive, in that we examine all aspects of the process and we don’t sell or represent technology vendors. That allows us to bring an independent perspective to evaluating and planning for process and technology change.
Ken: Tell me more about your background.
George: For the past twenty years I have been president of CRE8 Independent Consultants. Previously I held executive and leading roles with GTE, Wang Labs, ASA, and KPMG (EDP Auditor, CPA). I’m certified in, or otherwise experienced in, all those faddish labels you complained about. (Just kidding!) And I have extensive experience with paperless technologies. I’ve improved processes for organizations with between 100 and 250,000 employees, and I’ve designed paperless systems for between 25 and 25,000 users.
Ken: Thank you, George. It’s useful to be reminded that what I do is just part of a broader process. George can be reached at email@example.com.