Adopting innovations: contract automation product lifecycle explained

In this blogpost, we will elaborate on adopting innovations and, illustrated by reference to the product lifecycle, it explains an aspect of how to implement contract automation. The handbook to everything Weagree does and fundamental to the strategy of Weagree is described by Geoffrey Moore. Moore’s bestseller Crossing the chasm – Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers uses the ‘product lifecycle’ as the starting point for an innovator’s entire strategy. The book explains how to reach the mainstream market (beyond the early adopter stage).

Contract automation lifecycle adoption curve

In the product lifecycle (also referred to as the ‘technology adoption lifecycle’ or the ‘law of diffusion of innovations’), five segments are recognized, each referring to a type of personality. You have probably heard about them:

  • Innovators: those who need no manual or support, who sleep in front of the shop in order to be the first to buy and use it – those who are keen to find the first bugs and defects, not because they seek your failure but because they want to be a father of your success. For Weagree, the innovators were ASML, TNO and AkzoNobel.
  • Early adopters: people who search for the newest thing; who are willing to go through the process of completing an innovation for the jump-step in their own career. Early adopters herald their successes, even if success is yet still to be reconfirmed. An early adopter, financing Weagree’s multi-document-creation and collaborative-contracting functionalities in 2014, was EndemolShine.
  • Early majority: people who are averse of revolutions, breakthroughs or leaps forward – a mere improvement is sufficient to them – and who rely on their peers. Weagree reached this part of the market in 2014, although for a number of subsegments and for many countries, contract automation is still far away.
  • Late majority: people who may follow. Or not – they are usually the last ones of your class, a year after the rest).
  • Laggards. Simon Sinek describes them as the people who hate change, who would only move away from their current affairs if staying there has become impossible.

Apply it to everything in your life

You will find this adoption lifecycle (and likewise these persons) in every market with every kind of product (contract automation is no exception). And if you think about it, you know who in your personal circle will tell you about the latest fashion, where to buy the wow-shoes or coolest clothes for the forthcoming season, which music will become popular and to which festival you must go.

Those people can also be found when it comes to buying your innovative idea. If someone tells you that he or she is not an innovator, but the ‘ideal follower, the first one to adopt a new technology or solution’; then you know: this is not even an early adopter but a mainstream customer.

At Weagree, we met a number of them: law firms tend to follow each other, rather than assessing what quality requires and taking a lead. Law firms (also the large ones) do ‘not typically’ have a vision but rather follow the mass. At the same time, while this is true for legal tech and legal-service-business-models, law firms may well host innovators of their own: partners who apply previously unused legal concepts or develop novel legal solutions which stay within the borders of the law.

Innovations may well disrupt preceding innovations (even before the latter become mainstream). For example, the first-generation contract automation solutions entered the market before 2003. They carry very burdensome implementation restraints and which imply limitations on the technical possibilities due to legacy technology platform. The Weagree Wizard was developed after 2003, on a more recent technology platform and with the fundamental advantage of not being integrated with MS Word. This made it possible to introduce a true clause library, to facilitate the administrators (for template insertion authoring) with visual admin tooling (not requiring any coding at all, not even the ‘not-coding’ promulgated by Weagree’s competitors), and a WYSIWYG editor (enabling a user, ridiculously user-friendly, to tweak the contract text while answering the questionnaire).

Apply it to your innovative idea

According to Moore, the marketer should focus on one group of customers at a time, using each group as a base for marketing to the next group. The most difficult step is making the transition from the visionaries (early adopters) into the group of pragmatists (early majority). Between these two groups of people is what Moore calls ‘the chasm’ (pronounce ‘kassum’). The product lifecycle is also mentioned by Simon Sinek:

Behind the chasm is a group of people who do not rely on what early adopters say. They rely only on what their peers (behind the same chasm say). And because none of them will act without your product being ready for it, you should not applaud when one sheep leaps over the ditch, but only once two of them did! Two sheep will enjoy conversing about your innovative idea, and because two can entertain a conversation (not one) the rest will follow. Make sure that they have a nice story to tell!

Implementing contract automation

When launching an innovation, or launching the Weagree Wizard in your organisation, make yourself familiar with the phenomena ‘crossing the chasm’. Keep your eyes open for those persons who are looking for the newest things. First things first: so first create ‘the whole product’ out of your initial idea together with your early adopters and only then plan your D-Day strategy: your quest for conquering the mainstream market, and cross the chasm! Weagree has followed this strategy meticulously and with success. Our contract automation solution did cross the chasm in 2014.

When implementing the Weagree Wizard in your organisation, involve your innovators and early adopters: they will likely herald the roll-out of your innovation, and be the ambassador to your envisaged mainstream users.

The book Crossing the chasm is Weagree’s bible: the first edition dates back from 1991, Weagree refers to the revised, second edition (1999), whereas in 2014 the third edition was published, in each edition describing the key dynamics by reference to the most recent innovations adopted by the market. This blogpost was previously visible on the 2015-website of De BLIC (written by Willem Wiggers)

Leading change (part 3)

Leading change to document automation. This is the last part describing how a company or firm, who deems that the implementation and introduction of a contract assembly solution such as the Weagree Wizard entails a major change of process, should prevent that such implementation and introduction ends up in a failure. Or, more generally, how can projects be undertaken such that they have a greater likelihood of being successful?

In the preceding parts 1 and 2 on leading change to contract automation, I discussed the first six steps of major change-process projects. I took the work of John Kotter[1], a leading authority in the field of change management and modern leadership, as an example. In summary, the first six steps would require the company or firm to:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency.
  2. Creating a guiding coalition.
  3. Developing a vision and strategy.
  4. Communicating the change vision.
  5. Empowering employees for broad-based action.
  6. Generating short-term wins.

I already indicated that the implementation and (organisational) introduction of the Weagree Wizard (or of a company-wide upgrading of model contracts used by the business) should not be exaggerated but also not be underestimated. Being aware of what a truly major change of process would require will certainly help in making the right choices for smaller projects. Steps 7 and 8, the final steps entail the following:

7. Consolidating gains and producing more change. Once short term wins follow the one after the other, the major pitfall is to declare victory too soon. Like people may feel confident about the completion of one single major transaction, they will realize that this does not make them great contract drafters or deal-making negotiators. A true crack will probably remain hesitant about his (or her) quality of work even after a series of major transactions. When a company or firm introduces the Weagree Wizard as their document automation solution, each person should be encouraged to start and continue working with it. Also when work pressure increases (or rather: particularly in such circumstances). This is of course because commodity work should be commoditised and not be ‘promoted’ to bespoke services[2].

8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture. You have to walk the extra mile: when you finish a marathon, your jacket and phone are still on a considerable walking distance (this is at least true for the NYC Marathon). After implementing the Weagree Wizard or making important upgrades to your model contracts, it is absolutely necessary to anchor the new approaches into your organisation. The ongoing improvement of model contracts must be both ascertained by effective and efficient process ‘rules’; the amendment of existing and the making available of new model contracts; actual monitoring of performance through the Workflow of the Weagree Wizard; reviewing the level of seniority of staff and in-house counsel appointed for maintaining the Weagree Wizard’s contents and for reviewing model contract upgrading suggestions. I would strongly recomment that you establish a best practice group (and sub-groups) for continuously reviewing and improving model contracts[3].

[1]     John P. Kotter is professor at Harvard Business School and author of the bestseller Leading change.
[2]     Richard Susskind, The end of lawyers, Oxford University Press 2009 (e.g., see Chapter 2, distinguishing five ‘steps’ from bespoke work, via standardisation, systematisation, ‘packaging’ to commodisation).
[3]     In my book on this website, you will find many suggestions for efficiently and effectively upgrading model contracts (click here and then “Ten steps to a successful upgrade of your model contracts“). If you have any suggestions for further improvement, please let me know!

Leading change (part 2)

Leading change management to contract automation. In a preceding blog, I addressed the three first steps necessary for a successful implementation of changes of processes. Those steps included (1) the establishment of a sense of urgency (everyone should believe that a change is necessary), (2) creating a guiding coalition (top-down, the chosen new way of working is endorsed in word and behaviour), and (3) developing a vision and strategy (business propositions and other advantages are expressed and applauded).

In this blog, I will discuss subsequent steps related to upgrading model contracts or introducing the Weagree Wizard.

The steps elaborated on below, are identified by John Kotter[1], a leading authority in the field of change management and leadership.

4. Communicating the change vision. A general counsel and senior managers must not only endorse the vision (and implementation strategy) that are inherent to the introduction of document assembly software such as the Weagree Wizard. They should also express that vision and strategy: what are the advantages of the Weagree Wizard in terms of business facilitation, time gains resulting from reduced drafting time (increased productivity) and much shorter response time of the legal department, reduced business transaction cycles, enhanced compliance and great risk management achievements? What are the priorities that should be set when making choices? It is important that the general counsel, senior managers and the best practice group choose proper and effective communication means to introduce the ‘Weagree Wizard way of working’, to convey a vision that the forthcoming way of working implies a major relief for the workload and freshens the type of work that remains. Communication comes in both words and deeds. (Nothing undermines change more than the behaviour of seniors contradicting the verbal communication.)

5. Empowering employees for broad-based action. Empowering your legal counsel or attorneys to run the new way-of-working implies that eventually, the change requires a bottom-up commitment. If those who need to embrace innovative ways of working have no believe in it, all change efforts will fail. It implies that senior management should not only create the necessary opportunities and applaud the initial efforts to get used to the anticipated way of working. They should, together with all related lower levels of responsible persons, encourage the new way of working and be prepared to face the challenges. If, for example, it appears that the model contracts are not of good quality, time must be created to improve those models. That might require the involvement of a company’s law firm (or Weagree) to provide additional support. Whenever senior, well-intentioned managers avoid confronting obstacles, they disempower employees and undermine success. Failure is in the detail.

6. Generating short-term wins. Complex endeavours to implement innovative ways of working loose momentum if there are no short-term goals to meet and celebrate. Introduction of the Weagree Wizard needs to take place step-by-step. First a small group of ambassadors should be introduced to the new way of working. Even though the Wizard is highly intuitive and flexible to work with, if a user fails to create a contract (for whatever reason, even his or her own inability to push the right button) the easiest escape is to blame the software application. Similarly, if a company or firm desires to upgrade model contracts, the best way to achieve momentum would be to start with apparent ‘no-brainer clauses’ such as the ‘Miscellaneous’ section: probably 65 percent of all contracts consist of such type of clauses and phrases; unifying them in one or two stages implies a major milestone. And a quick success.

Continue reading part 3 on leading change management to contract automation

[1]     John P. Kotter is Konosuke Matsushita professor at Harvard Business School and author of the bestseller Leading change.

Leading change (part 1)

Contract automation and change management. Some people believe that implementing and using the Weagree Wizard requires a change of process. Weagree believes that the advantages of the Wizard are so great that its implementation and use are largely self-propelling. The application outperforms any secretary and is foolproof: truly intuitive and very user-friendly.

Still, there is a truth in the statement, as its success may well depend on the quality of your own model contracts. Also, like any undertaken change in the way you work, the implementation does require care and willingness to speed up.

This blog addresses a few aspects identified by John Kotter to be determinative for a successful change of processes.

John Kotter[1], an undisputed authority in the field of change management and modern leadership, identified eight stages of a successful change of process.

1. Establish a sense of urgency. This first stage of any any change of process project essentially triggers or deteriorates all that follows. If people in an organisation are self-confident (i.e. when complacency levels are high), it will be virtually impossible to drive people out of their comfort zones: no urgency to change. In the current economic circumstances, an increasing number of people will realise that a more effective and efficient way of working has become inevitable. Even in organisations with too much past successes, low performance standards or insufficient feedback from external sources, the capabilities of the Weagree Wizard are so evident and complaints about a legal department’s productivity or response time must have been repeated so often that a consciousness that things must change increases. In legal departments, the pressure to change is most likely present. In law firms, competitive pressure might not be that evident (yet).

2. Creating a guiding coalition. Major changes, such as an improvement of model contracts or the introduction of a contract assembly application such as Weagree’s Wizard, demand support from the highest management level. The more convincingly changes are initiated, the more effective they will be. Upgrading model contracts requires strong commitment and conveyance by the general counsel, whereas the introduction of automated contracts by virtue of the Weagree Wizard (also delegating contract creation work to business lines, albeit subject to legal approval) is something that must be applauded by senior management. Support and applause should be sincere and persistent. To create actual support from in-house counsel for using the model contracts, it may be inevitable to establish a best practice group consisting of leaders from amongst the lawyers. I discussed this already in another blog and collected my suggestions in our book (click hereTen steps…).

3. Developing a vision and strategy. The mere introduction of the Weagree Wizard may well prove to be a great step forward. But to leverage on its capabilities, accelerating contract drafting, may require more than that. A general counsel and senior managers should develop their vision and strategy that may appear to be inherent to the use of document assembly software such as the Weagree Wizard. Such vision and strategy link the company’s (or firm’s) current circumstances to the Wizard’s advantages in terms of business facilitation, time gains resulting from a reduced drafting time (increased productivity) and a much shorter response time of the legal department, reduced business transaction cycles, enhanced compliance and great risk management achievements. They might prioritise these advantages first, in order to create more focus and help making decisions (e.g., if two of the advantages contradict each other). The vision and strategy should help everyone in the organisation to make the right choices in any situation. Without a vision, choices would need to be escalated to the general counsel (or senior manager) and important changes can easily dissolve into mixed and confusing signals and overly time-consuming projects.

Of course, introducing the Wizard is largely self-propelling: it is the living evidence that time savings and many other advantages are achieved easily. A condition, however, could be that the model contracts are of good quality. This is why Weagree, other than almost all its competitors, delivers the Wizard with many model clauses.

Steps 4 to 8 will be discussed in subsequent blogs.

[1]     John P. Kotter is Konosuke Matsushita professor at Harvard Business School and author of the bestseller Leading change.