The Contracts Queen’s Guide to Creating a Practical Contract Playbook


KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Commercial contracts are not Legal documents. They are Business documents.
  • A contract playbook should be solution-focused and reader-centric.
  • Contract playbooks can be used to improve interdepartmental relationships, empower stakeholders, speed up the contracting process, and save time in CLM implementation.

The Contracts Queen’s Guide to Creating a Practical Contract Playbook by Roma Khan

If you play in the contracts world, you have heard about a ‘playbook’ and possibly created one. A playbook is a high-level instruction manual to help you start and excel at the game you are playing, or the task you are performing. It is meant to guide you through processes, configurations, or situations.

Most playbooks defeat this purpose by including too much or too little information. Instead, they should be a high-level instruction manual on how to play and win the contracts game. The flow and contents of the playbook should take the reader through a realistic contracting journey. From intake to signature, and escalations to mitigation.

This article will show you how to create a practical contract playbook to facilitate efficient contract management for the entire company, and not just the legal or contracts department–the entire organization.

Want a little more guidance? Join a free webinar on How to Create a Practical Contract Playbook where I’ll show you how to get started building your own playbook!

History of Playbooks

The origination of playbooks was in the theater. Since the 1500s, a playbook was a book of stage plays or a book of amusement.

Many centuries later, in the 1960s, the playbook became a common term due to American football, which I call just football. A playbook in football is a notebook containing descriptions of all the plays and strategies used by a team, often accompanied by diagrams. Coaches issue them to players to be studied and memorized before the season begins.

According to Elizabeth Merrill, ESPN senior writer, “In the NFL, the playbook is a sacred hardbound diary of trust. It’s an accumulation of decades’ worth of knowledge, tweaked and perfected, sectioned off by scribbles and colored tabs. It’s the first thing the fresh meat gets when preseason workouts start in the spring and the last thing that is pried from a player’s sweaty mitts when The Turk arrives and utters those dreaded 11 words.”

Due to its popularity in sports, playbooks became a familiar term in workplaces. Employees use workplace playbooks to understand professional and operational guidelines of a department and organization. Similarly, you should design your contracts playbook to facilitate the contracting process of a company and its legal or contracts department.

If you notice, there is no mention of contract lifecycle management (CLM) or AI in the history or definition of a playbook. That is because the term playbook is industry agnostic. While you can certainly use your contract playbook for AI or CLM training, it serves a much bigger purpose than that. Recently, the CLM software industry has unintentionally hijacked the term playbook due to its in AI model training. That is a popular and practical use of a playbook as you will see below, but not the primary goal.

Contract Playbook – Purpose

A contract playbook is a handy guidebook to easily help contracts professionals (including lawyers, procurement, sales, and legal ops folks) to learn and perform contract management, contract negotiation, and technology implementation of CLM tools. Therefore, it should be practical and easily understandable by anyone in the company.

Now, here is the controversial part for some. Commercial contracts are not Legal documents. They are Business documents. Contracts are business deals on a document. A contract spends a short amount of time in the Legal department throughout its lifecycle. Therefore, your contract playbook should have a business mentality, and business acumen for a business user’s understanding.  Even though lawyers and contracts professionals commonly use contract playbooks, you should draft it for the non-lawyers and non-contract professionals in the company, as well.

Contract Playbook – Users

There are three primary contract playbook users: 

1. Legal or contract department staff

2. Business stakeholders

3. Contract technology/CLM vendors

All three of these user types have varying roles and responsibilities in the contract’s lifecycle. Therefore, your contact playbook must be adequately filled with relevant information for these professionals to perform their tasks successfully. To accomplish this, you must spend time with each of these user types to understand their responsibilities, challenges, and goals in the contracting process. Rely on their expertise to create a user-friendly and sustainable contract playbook.

Contract Playbook – Style

A contract playbook can be pleasant to read and follow if created with design thinking in mind. Design thinking is human-centric and user-specific approach to problem solving. Design thinking is solution-based and user-centric rather than problem-based, like inventions. So, your contract playbook should be solution-based and reader-centric in order to be practical and effective.  It should create an end-to-end user experience for anyone in the contract journey.

A contract playbook, like your contracts, should also be brand-centric. This means more than using the company brand colors. It should incorporate company values and it should be tailored to the overall business outlook. This will help the readers connect with the purpose and logic of the contract playbook. 

Contract Playbook – Content

Every contract playbook must cover two core sections, Process and Positions.

Process

This section refers to your company’s contracting process and must cover intake, review, escalation, signatures, and storage. Include best practices, templates, and emergency contacts here. This section is designed for the company’s legal or contracts department and business stakeholders.

Positions

This section refers to your standard terms and conditions and exceptions to them for each contract type. This section is primarily for the contacts or legal department and the CLM vendors. This portion of the playbook is key to successful contract negotiations and AI training.

Plays (optional)

This section refers to complex or high-value contract negotiations and is primarily for the contracts or legal department. Similar to the Positions section, it can be combined with the former if not needed.

For practicality, the contract playbook should be in a strategic order to make it easy to follow, understand, and redistribute, in whole or in part. Start with a cover page, then add a summary page of the process for the Business and contracts professionals. Follow that with the Process and Positions sections. This will allow you to separate the sections easily and share them with the appropriate reader. Add ‘Confidential’ to the footer. Use tables and design assets to convey your message in a fun and light way.

If all of this makes sense, but you don’t have the time to create a practical contract playbook, my team at CrushContracts create one for you quickly. CrushContracts provides flex contracts management and CLM implementation to legal departments in a practical and cost-effective way. Contact us for two complimentary hours of contract review support.

Contract Playbook – Depth

A contract playbook is a play-by-play book, but it should not be an encyclopedia. The key to a successful playbook is its practicality.

If the playbook is too dense or technical then the user may not comprehend or follow the instructions. If the playbook is too light, the user may misunderstand the rules, expectations, and risks associated with the tasks. In both cases, the user will perform poorly which may have dangerous consequences in certain industries.

Therefore, include consequential steps, avoid minutia, and use plain language. The reader is either already a contracts professional or a business colleague and neither are interested in mastering legalese. Again, write for business users.

Write the ‘Process’ section at a high level for the marketing associate, VP of operations, IT manager and your CEO. Write your ‘Positions’ section with summaries and not the actual contract verbiage. This is not your contract clause library. A clause library is a separate document which may be appended to the playbook if needed. Keep the ‘Plays’ section short and in shorthand as it is meant for the legal department’s eyes only.

Most contract playbooks are written by lawyers or legal professionals. One of the hardest tasks for a lawyer is to write for non-lawyers. It is tough because a lawyer must educate without overwhelming in a long-forgotten language of non-legalese. But a lawyer is often writing for other lawyers and is out of practice when writing a contract playbook and will fall into the trap of oversharing. Lawyers, please resist the temptation to write a contract self-help book. Your business stakeholders will thank you.

If all of this makes sense, but you don’t have the time to create a practical contract playbook, my team at CrushContracts can create one for you quickly. CrushContracts provides flex contracts management and CLM implementation to legal departments in a practical and cost-effective way. Contact us for two complimentary hours of contract review support.

Plus, join a free webinar on How to Create a Practical Contract Playbook where I’ll show you how to get started building your own playbook!

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  1. Thank you for this very informative article. I can already tell that my contract journey will be less complicated when I start utilizing this information to create my own playbook.

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