When to Use Collaborative Contracts

In this blog we will explore when we should, and should not, pursue collaborative contracts.  We must remind ourselves that collaborative contracts are not binary structures involving either zero collaboration at one of the spectrum, versus an incorporated joint venture or alliance at the other end.  Collaboration can take many forms and is a scalable concept that must be tailored to the activity at hand.

Motivation

“Virtually all of the collaborative projects out-performed most defence projects” – UK NAO Good Governance ‘Measuring Success Through Collaborative Working Relationships’ (2006).

Firstly, we only pursue collaborative relationships where the benefits outweigh the costs.  That is, we have a motive for collaboration.  Cost and benefits though need to be considered in as broad as terms as possible and not just in terms of contract price.  Collaborative benefits may include:

  • improved prospects for repeat business
  • continuous improvement and innovation opportunities
  • increased likelihood for supplier participation
  • enhanced satisfaction for all employees
  • improved flexibility
  • less time wasted on disputes and issues management

Similarly, we also need to explore the ‘hidden costs’ associated with collaboration, which may include:

  • increased time and effort in tender evaluation and tender development
  • increased efforts in relationship monitoring and cultural alignment
  • supplier lock-in
  • increased likelihood of opportunistic behaviours.[1]

In summary, we first need to craft a robust business case when considering collaborative endeavours and ensure this business case is continually evaluated.

Means

Where collaboration is able to realise superior benefits,  then we should explore whether we have the means to engage in collaborative ventures.  We should ask ourselves if we have the right culture, appetite to risk, and internal capabilities to realise collaborative benefits.  The United Kingdom National Audit Office offers the following ‘gold standard’ for enabling positive working relationships. 

UK National Audit Office Gold Standard for Sustaining the right Cultural Environment[2]

The Australian Department of Defence Capability Acquisition Sustainment Group, in their Collaborative Contracting Better Practice Guide, also provides guidance to help ‘buy-side’ organisations gain insight into their ability to pursue collaborative outcomes through the use of a contract maturity model, which asks the following questions:

  1. Suppliers favour your organisation because it “always keeps its promises”, treats suppliers fairly, promotes trust, and minimises the cost of doing business.
  2. Both parties openly discuss “interests and desired outcomes” throughout the procurement lifecycle commensurate with the strategic importance of the relationship.
  3. Each contracting party understands the other’s goals and how to help achieve and quantify them
  4. The contract is viewed as a tool to plan and track business relationships
  5. Procurement practitioners are viewed as valued facilitators and integrators of stakeholder interests

Asking yourself, ‘do I have the capacity and capability to achieve these gold standard or contract maturity model outcomes’ will help you understand whether collaboration is the right step for your organisation.  If the answer is no, then leaders can take remedial action. Future blogs in this series will explore strategies to shift organisation capabilities and culture to better enable collaborative outcomes.

Opportunity

With the means and motive for collaboration established we now explore whether the right opportunities exist for collaboration.  The opportunities for collaboration will be driven by the commercial model, geography, and market power of buyers and suppliers.  Collaboration will only work where both buyers and suppliers are committed.  Opportunities for collaboration may be limited in the following circumstances:

  • A transactional environment where buyers and suppliers operate on a ‘take it or leave it basis’.
  • Inflexible governance arrangements exist (especially in the public sector) which inhibit the full range of relational outcomes. This is especially the case where compulsory competitive tendering rules are too onerous.
  • Key leaders and managers are unavailable to support collaborative outcomes.
  • Pre-existing and inflexible contract structures prevent the full range of collaboration outcomes. An example of this would be ‘government to government’ contracts such as Foreign Military Sales.

Even where some of these adverse features exist, there still may be opportunities to engage in some level of collaboration. 

When not to use collaborative contracts

Collaborative contracts should never be used where an organisation lacks the means to effectively implement them.  This may stem from an inappropriate organisational culture or lack of commercial maturity.  If an organisation is mostly ‘transactionally’ based, where disputes and issues are normally resolved by resorting to ‘lawyers at twenty paces’, then that organisation will be unlikely to engage in effective collaborative relationships. 

As we previously discussed, we therefore need to ask ourselves some very hard questions about our internal capabilities and the means to engage in collaborative ventures.  This could involve benchmarking the commercial maturity of the organisation through tools such as the International Association of Contract and Commercial Management  (IACCM) Capability Maturity Model or undertake a collaborative contract skills assessment under Supplier Relationship Management processes.  Organisations may also rely on performance scorecards to benchmark their relationships and skills in collaboration.

There is also an overwhelming temptation to pursue collaborative contracts to mask systemic failures in an organisation. When facing failure, the allure of collaboration may be seen as a quick fix.  Simply sticking a partnering charter on an existing contract and hoping for the best will unlikely create value.  Positive relationships and collaboration are necessary but not sufficient for success. That is, organisations must still make sure they address the key hygiene factors before they attempt collaborative contracts. This includes ensuring the following are addressed:

  • A clear and shared organisational vision
  • Leadership commitment
  • robust commercial skills
  • A mature Project Management framework

The evidence is clear that collaboration can deliver fantastic benefits both between and within organisations.  We need to ensure we implement collaborative contracts for the right reasons and understand what barriers exist to successful implementation. Future blogs will explore collaborative contract case studies of where things have gone well and where things have failed.


[1] Hikan Hakansson and Ivan Snehota, ‘The burden of relationships or who’s next?’, (11th IMP Conference Proceedings, Manchester, 7-9 September 1995), 522-36.

[2] UK NAO “Driving the Successful Delivery of Major Defence Projects: Effective Project Control is a Key Factor in Successful Projects” HC 30 Session 2005-2006 p7.