The terms contract management and contract administration are often confused for one another or used interchangeably, but they actually represent different phases of the overall contracting process. To state it as simply as possible, contract administration is the work done before a contract is signed into effect and contract management covers everything done after signing to ensure that deliverables and deadlines are adhered to as outlined in the agreement.
Below is a more in-depth overview of the differences between contract administration and contract management and helpful tips for excelling in both phases of the contracting process.
What is Contract Administration?
The professionals responsible for a company’s contract administration focus their work on the planning and execution of contracts. The planning process often includes sourcing potential contracting partners, for example via sending out requests for proposal. In addition, contract administrators help with ironing out the details of the contract arrangement, working with prospective partners to negotiate on contract matters such as price, delivery schedules, and performance expectations.
Although the word administration makes it seem as though this facet of the contracting cycle is essentially administrative in nature, it requires a great deal of strategy and business savvy. Entering into legally sound, mutually advantageous contracts is critical to the financial success of many businesses, so it is imperative to find the right partners and put into place fair agreements.
Best Practices for Preparing a Contract Administration Plan
Creating and following a strong contract administration plan puts your team in a good position to successfully manage each new contract throughout the lifecycle of the agreement. This formal document should describe in explicit detail what is expected of both parties during the term of the agreement in order to limit possible breaches of contract or other issues that lead to either side not fulfilling their contractual obligations.
Consider the following five best practices when preparing a contract administration plan.
1. Define the scope and deliverables
The first step to ensuring a successful contracting process is to clearly lay out expectations, including the scope and deliverables. Scope creep is a common issue that can derail any contract, so including in writing exactly what the contract does and does not cover will help keep the contract on track.
2. Include a detailed timeline
It may sound like a given, but contract administration plans should include a detailed timeline accounting for every important milestone throughout the life of the contract, including project start and end dates, deadlines for deliverables, and progress updates.
3. Sort out finances
To avoid contract disputes and maintain positive relationships between both parties, everyone involved in the contract administration process should know the financial terms of the agreement, including the value of the contract, payment intervals, and the process to address the need for any additional expenses (depending on the type of contract).
4. Plan the work
To ensure transparency and accountability, the plan should include details about how the contract deliverables will be executed, including the people who will be working on each part of the agreement (including both internal and third-party personnel, if applicable). Having a plan for measuring success throughout the life of the contract will keep both parties aligned and allow for course correction if needed.
5. Anticipate the risks
Every contract comes with risk, but putting plans in place to account for those risks can prevent the contact from failing. Outline the most likely risks for each agreement and the steps that should be taken in the event those events actually happen. Building in some flexibility for timelines and budgets will allow for minor, unexpected delays or problems to be taken in stride and prevent the contract (and potentially the relationship) from suffering significantly.
What is Contract Management?
Contract management occurs after a contract has been executed and taken effect. Thus, this entails working to ensure that the terms and conditions contained within the contract are adhered to and that all of a party’s contractual obligations are met satisfactorily.
During the contract management phase, it is always possible that circumstances will change, necessitating modifications to the contract agreement. Of course, the contract management team tends to work closely with the other party to the agreement, so they are in a good position to know whether the relationship is working or if it is necessary to pursue opportunities elsewhere. As a result, it makes sense for the contract administrators and managers to remain in close communication, in the event that they are in fact separate teams within a company.
Stages of Contract Management
Knowing what to expect at each of the seven essential stages of the contract management process will increase your ability to meet contract requirements and deliver optimal results.
1. Planning stage
During the planning stage, you should outline the specifics of your team’s most pressing contract management pain points, needs, and goals, then determine what kind of approach or system would best enable you to address those areas. You’ll also want to consider the resources you have available to allocate to the contract management process.
2. Implementation stage
After you know what your contract management process should look like, you can begin to implement the tools and systems needed to support those efforts. If you only have a handful of contracts to manage, you can likely track your deadlines, deliverables, and other obligations with manual solutions like shared drives, calendars, and spreadsheets. If you have more complex contract management needs, consider implementing dedicated contract management software to help you keep track of your agreements and important deadlines.
This is also the time when everyone involved with your contract management process should be onboarded and trained on your contract management solution so they’re completely comfortable using the software.
3. Pre-contract stage
During the pre-contract stage, you should work closely with the contract administration to start understanding the important details of the new agreement. This will help you prepare for the contract management process and incorporate any specific guidelines that will help you manage the contract and deliverables effectively.
4. Handover stage
If the individuals who negotiated an agreement are not the same people who will be executing and delivering against the terms of the contract, it’s imperative to have a thorough handover process, often involving dedicated meetings to ensure alignment and common understanding of roles, responsibilities, and key deliverables.
5. Contract stage
The contract stage is when the work defined in the agreement is executed and deliverables are completed, hopefully according to the agreed upon timeline and budget. This is also one of the areas where contract management software can help you stay on track and give you the foundation needed to measure performance along the way. Features like automated alerts and notifications and custom reports will let you know of any upcoming deadlines related to deliverables, termination windows, and any other dates you determine are worth tracking.
6. Pre-renewal stage
Typically, as a contract winds down, you must determine if you want to renew, renegotiate, or terminate it completely. More often than not, there are strict timelines that determine when these actions can occur without penalty, so it’s in your best interest to start thinking about these scenarios well before the contract’s end date.
7. Post-contract stage
Once a contract has ended and the dust has settled, there are a couple of post-contract tasks to complete. Before archiving your contract, review the contract terms in detail to confirm that all conditions have been met and invoices have been settled.
Finally, conducting a post-mortem will give you an opportunity to uncover valuable information about the contract and your contract management process - including both successes and shortcomings - that can help you improve your future agreements.
Contract Management Best Practices
There are many different ways to approach contract management, and a plethora of solutions and methods for accomplishing your contracting goals. Here are seven contract management best practices that apply to just about every situation, regardless of the size and complexity of your contract portfolio.
1. Keep all of your contracts in one place
To manage your contracts effectively, you have to know where they are. By keeping all of your organization’s contracts in one location, you’ll know exactly where to go to find an agreement or track down dates, terms, and other specific contract details.
2. Set and measure contract management KPIs
Setting and measuring contract management KPIs is the best way to determine how your contracts are performing and gives you a way to share that information with internal stakeholders. These KPIs also enable you to identify any ineffective parts of your contract management process and develop strategies to improve by reducing risks, eliminating unnecessary costs, or finding missed opportunities in your agreements.
3. Balance storage security and access
Legal departments and contract managers must find the right balance between contract security and access. Those who use contract management software have a secure online repository to house all of their sensitive contracts, and can easily assign varying levels of access so only specific users and groups can view certain files and folders. This allows legal teams to share some of the contract management responsibilities without losing control of your repository.
4. Track contract approval time
The quicker you can move a contract through the approval process, the less time it takes to start seeing the value from that agreement. But, in order to optimize that process for greater efficiency, you first must have a system in place for monitoring it. Tracking contract approval time will help you understand your contract cycle and determine whether improvements are needed.
5. Automate contract communications
Today’s contract management technology allows legal teams to automate many aspects of the contracting process, especially around communications. For example, cloud-based repositories allow users to schedule and send specific individuals automated contract alerts and notifications, removing the need for manual reminders and unnecessary emails. And with the modern solutions available, many businesses have eliminated the process of physically sending documents back and forth for wet signatures, instead turning to electronic signature options for immediate action.
6. Conduct regular compliance reviews
One benefit of having a structured contract management process is the ability to improve your organization’s compliance with industry regulations. By regularly monitoring federal, state, and other legal regulations and ensuring your contracts adhere to those laws, you can protect your business from avoidable penalties and fines. Make it a point to regularly check for updates to the regulations that pertain to your company, and review active contracts to determine if action is needed to remain compliant.
7. Anticipate evolving business needs
Most businesses and their needs evolve over time, so it’s important to anticipate those changes and adjust your contracts accordingly. If your business is growing quickly and you know your needs will be changing in short order, rather than simply renewing contracts for existing services, consider reviewing them closely to determine if it makes more sense to adjust or renegotiate based on your evolving needs.
Top 3 Steps to Take Now to Improve Contract Management
If your contract management process is in need of improvement, or if you don’t have a formal process in place at all, these three steps can put you on the fast track to contract management success.
1. Conduct an audit of all things contract related
Before you can start taking steps to solve your biggest contract management problems, you have to understand what those problems are. Conduct a contract management audit that includes all of the stakeholders, resources, and processes across your organization that impact how your contracts are handled from negotiation and creation to execution and management.
2. Develop a formal contract management framework
Using the findings from your audit, you can now put into place a structured approach to managing your contract portfolio. This framework should address every element of the contract management process and clearly define what should be happening at each stage. The plan should also include things like roles and departments responsible for various contract-related tasks and processes, how contract management performance is measured, and any tools and systems that should be used during the contract management process.
3. Use technology to make it easier
Implementing dedicated contract management software can vastly improve your ability to manage your contract portfolio and all of your organization’s contract-related deadlines and deliverables. Once your portfolio reaches a certain size or level of complexity, it becomes next to impossible to effectively track and act on every aspect of your contract management process using only manual tools and systems. With the right contract management software, your organization can regain control of your contract portfolio.
Benefits of Contract Management Software
Every business has a unique set of contract management problems and priorities. Determining what type of software your business should implement ultimately comes down to finding the solution that fits your budget, solves for your biggest contract management pain points, and provides a system you and your team will actually use.
No matter what type of solution you choose, here are some of the most significant benefits of contract management software:
1. Single source of truth
Contract management software provides one central location to store all of your organization’s contracts, meaning every user knows exactly where to go to find the contract information they need. Using contract management software prevents the issue of having multiple copies or versions of a contract floating around, which can cause confusion and lead to individuals working off of an outdated version of an agreement.
2. Greater contract visibility and insight
Businesses without contract management software often have to deal with misplaced contracts that are scattered across various desks, shared drives, and filing cabinets. Contract management software gives users the ability to search for any contract, clause, or keyword across your entire contract portfolio, and find exactly what you’re looking for in seconds.
3. Reduced risk
Contract management software helps you reduce contract risk in a number of ways, including:
Making it easier to track contract dates and deadlines - By scheduling alerts for key contract dates and deadlines, you can be sure you’ll never get caught off guard when an automatic renewal deadline is approaching or a major contract deliverable is due.
Providing stakeholders with critical contract insight - Contract management software enables you to run reports based on any metadata of interest, providing increased contract visibility and insight for department heads, leadership teams, and others. Now, the legal team isn’t the only group keeping an eye on contract adherence and performance.
Learning from - and not repeating - previous mistakes - Contract reporting also gives your team an easy way to analyze your portfolio to identify trends in past agreements. By isolating underperforming contracts, you can work to understand what those agreements have in common and look for ways to modify how future contracts are structured.
4. Time savings
One of the most important benefits of contract management software is that it saves you time, which then allows you to focus on higher-value activities. Manual contract management is tedious and time-consuming, but the majority of contract management software features are designed specifically with your time in mind.
An online, searchable repository means you don’t have to spend time digging through cabinets to find a contract or re-reading a 75-page agreement to find a specific clause or term
Automated alerts eliminate the need to manually track important dates for hundreds or thousands of contracts
Artificial intelligence features automatically identify and tag key pieces of information in your contracts, potentially saving you and your team from spending hundreds of hours manually entering these details
Electronic signature features allow you to get contracts signed in minutes, reducing the time needed to execute new agreements
Permission-based user roles give administrators the option of assigning varying levels of access to different groups and users, enabling your colleagues to find answers to their contract-related questions without requiring your time and attention
Implementing dedicated contract management software streamlines the contract management process and enables key members of the legal department to spend less time on tedious contract management tasks and more time on strategic, high-value initiatives.
Contract administration and contract management represent two different stages of the contracting process, covering the periods before and after a contract is signed and put into effect. To ensure all of your organization’s agreements are created, executed, organized, monitored, and optimized according to company standards, it’s important to have strong contract administration and contract management processes and systems in place.