We’ve been seeing quite a few articles lately popping up randomly on LinkedIn, Procurement searches, newsletters, etc. around Procurement Contracting, and, as you’ve probably guessed, we’ve noticed that most of them aren’t great. Not to say they’re bad, they’re not, but usually they’re finely focussed on core clauses that should be in there to keep the lawyers happy, using standard templates for consistency, making sure you have Force Majeure or appropriate risk management clauses (which are important, but miss the point), or on particular specifications or appendices you need for services contracts, etc. Few are good across the board, and most miss the key points.
So, today, we’re going to overview key elements of a good procurement contract, be it for goods or services, that all buyers should be aware of. This is not intended to be a complete list, as every category is different, every company is different, and every scenario is different and no single generic checklist will cover everything that is needed, but one can distill a list of common requirements that will always be required regardless of the category, geography, company, or situation at hand. Logically speaking, these requirements will always be necessary, but may not always be sufficient.
1) As Dick Locke will tell you over and over again, if you want them to be good, then all of your contracts should be written in Plain English, not convoluted legalese, and should be comprehensible by someone with a high school education. Not all buyers will have a University education, or even a College education, and even if they do, it may not have been in English and/or English may not be their first language.
2) A good contract answers the 6Ws: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
a) what are the goods and services the organization is contracting for
b) who is the intended recipient of the goods or services (not just the company) who will be using the goods or services and signing off that they are fit for use
c) where are they needed (plant, warehouse, office, etc.) as this determines where they need to be delivered
d) why are they being used over another good or service, as this determines key features or functions or specifications that the organization needs to ensure are maintained
e) when are they needed, as this specifies delivery schedules that need to be met
f) how are the goods or services going to be used as this dictates what specifications must be met or certifications that must be possessed (and explicitly referenced in the contract)
3) A good contract addresses the actionable risk mitigations that are to be adhered to by both parties to minimize the chances of a risk event significantly impacting or disrupting the business, even if it’s just timely notifications of an event happening or not happening.
Shift happens, and then sh!t happens. It’s reality. Blaming someone doesn’t fix it. Nor does having an out when the supplier doesn’t deliver on time, because chances are, you still need the goods or services, by a certain time, or your business is going to end up in the sh!tter when you can’t deliver to your customers because you won’t get paid (best case), and might get sued (worst case). And even including a legal clause on damages that allows damages to be passed through is rather useless, because, chances are, your supplier is living order to order and couldn’t afford to pay your legal fees and/or any judgement against you, which still leaves you on the hook.
Furthermore, any Force Majeure that you include in your customer contracts won’t protect you if you didn’t make all reasonable efforts and/or only you were affected while your competitors served their customers with similar products and services just fine without interruption.
You need to understand not only what can go wrong, and if there’s anything the supplier can do to prevent it or deal with it when it does, but also how long it will take you to find another source of supply if the supplier can’t deliver and make sure you have enough notice to do so if that is the only option available to you.
For example, if you need a custom manufactured product where it takes a new supplier ten weeks to upgrade a production line because it takes six to eight weeks to get the equipment, install it, and then test it; and it would take you two weeks to go to the next best supplier, get a contract, and get started, then you need three months lead time if your current supplier can’t deliver. In this situation, you need your supplier to let you know of any potential delays as soon as they get foreknowledge, and then let you know as soon as they won’t be able to manufacturer. This means that you might need to specify in the contract that, as soon as one of the supplier’s key tier suppliers is a week late on notifying the supplier of a shipment, they notify you that they may not be receiving a critical part or raw material on time and may not be starting your production on time. This allows you to determine whether or not this could be a risky situation and whether or not you want follow up.
You’d also want a notification if production didn’t start within a certain period of time from the expected production date, as that will dictate a late shipment. And so on.
Same for services. If you need a consultant or contractor with a certain industry certification, and the supplier only has three, and all three on tied up on a contract where it is determined they won’t be finished by the due date and cannot be redeployed on the date they were initially promised to you, you want to know the day the service provider knows they will not be able to allocate those contractors or consultants to you, especially if you can’t wait to start your project. Then you can figure out how many resources you really need to start, and use the risk mitigation clauses to go find someone else from another provider.
Again, this is not everything a contract needs, but requirements that must be met by every contract.