A couple of weeks ago, I found out that Megaport's legal team were using a project management tool, called JIRA, to manage their workload.
This is a tool that's super popular with software developers and associated with agile methodology. So when I heard about a legal team using this software, it immediately piqued my interest so I thought I'd get them share their experience using the software with you.
Here's how it went down:
Lexoo: In terms of your legal team, can you just quickly give us a snapshot on the history and how it's currently set up?
Sarah McCulloch: As you're probably aware we had a big growth spurt from becoming listed on the ASX in 2015, in the December of that year. I came on board in March last year, 2016 and at that stage, it was just me in the Brisbane office. We also had our company secretary, who helped us out with legal work, she was located in Adelaide and we also had another solicitor located in San Francisco.
So it was quite different when I first started and we didn't have a management tool at all. We weren't using JIRA at that stage. And then, now, fast forward a year and a half down the track, Anna is our General Counsel, we also have Melissa on board so that's pretty much the base of our legal team and we're all in Brisbane. We still have our Co-Sec, who's in Adelaide and she can help out with ad hoc matters, but generally, we manage everything from Brisbane now.
Okay, so it's a team of three and, in terms of the matters, what sort of matters does the team typically work on and what kind of volumes are we talking about?
Anna Hale: I would say that probably 75% of our business as usual and our day to day work is commercial contracts, either dealing with our suppliers, so for example, data centre providers being our main one and then just customer contracts, where some of our sophisticated partners, of course, want to red line our standard terms, so that's typically the process that we run through JIRA. The balance of our work is strategic, some acquisition work, IP-related work, generally employment related matters, and obviously, we have a work force that is spread globally so at any given day, we are going to have a whole host of issues arise. But I'll say probably about 75% of our workload goes through the JIRA system.
In terms of volume, at any given time, we could be working on between 35 and 55 contracts at a time and those are the contracts that we run through the JIRA system.
That's a higher volume than I would have anticipated, to be honest. I mean, give us a sense of these contracts. Do they take a week to negotiate? Or a month to negotiate? How intensive are they, in general?
Anna: It really depends on the partner. For example, over the last probably year to a year and a half, our business was focused in North America and some of our big partners, it can take several months to work through their contract. It really depends on the understanding of the person on the other side because our product is complicated but our legal terms are not complicated so if the person on the other side doesn't understand the nature of our business, then we can end up in some quite long commercial negotiations but most of that is in them trying to understand the product. Once they understand the product, then the contract negotiations can happen relatively quickly. But, you know, with some of these partners we deal with have legal teams that are bigger than our entire company so yeah, it's really just case by case.
What were you using before JIRA to manage your matters? I guess, when did you start using JIRA as well?
Sarah: Well, luckily for Anna, she doesn't know a time when JIRA wasn't in place. So when I first started, we just managed it by email, which was obviously confusing. We also had the different time zones in the mix, with the San Francisco solicitor, as well as someone in Adelaide, who could sometimes be in a different timezone and then, me as well. So that's how it was done and it wasn't very effective, as you can imagine. And then, I took on a project, when Anna was coming on board, to get JIRA up and running so there was something a bit better in place for when she started and we've just kind of fine tuned it over the last year, I guess.
Software and technology's a big part of what Megaport does, was it a case of the rest of the company, or the developers, they're using this platform so therefore, it was sort of in front of you in some way? Or did you go out and source a bunch of different vendors and end up with JIRA? How did you make the choice?
Sarah: Our dev team did use JIRA at the time and still does. And our marketing team also made use of JIRA for their workload, so I just kind of jumped on that and then worked out a process and a timeline and everything that suited our legal work and how it was going to go forward from there.
Are you able to run me through an example of how you would use it, end to end?
Anna: Sure, so basically, it's up to the relevant sales people or business owners to submit a job to JIRA, so they create a ticket and typically that involves them uploading a contract to JIRA with an explanation as to what they require, so it might be that we need to review red lines in a contract that they provided to us or, in the case of a data centre operator, it would be reviewing their terms of engagement. An email gets sent to the legal team to advise that the ticket's been created and then, depending on workload, one of us can assign that job to ourselves or, if we know that someone else in the team has worked on a prior matter that's related or, depending on what the matter is, we can also allocate to another team member. We try to respond within 72 hours, to any job, in the first instance and then, it's just a matter of working through the contract process.
The way we have our JIRA setup is that the job comes in, we can then allocate it to external review or, if it's red lined internally for internal comment, we can put it into that mode and then, when the job is done, we just click it off as done, and it goes somewhere.
I'm just wondering if the ticket submission point, is that basically a form-fill that the business fills in and do you get to determine what questions are being asked and therefore what answers you need in order to get the relevant information for the type of contract or the type of urgency or risk or that type of thing?
Anna: They have to upload relevant documentation and provide instructions. What we do, to run alongside this is we run sales training with the sales team and members of staff that want to use the JIRA system and we provide what the sort of instructions are that we need and then it's up to them to upload that information into the JIRA. So, for example, who is the party, what contract, are there any commercial obligations that we need to be aware of, any other relevant information that we might need to know before we look at the job. Of course, you're dealing with sales people who are different levels so sometimes you get really, really good instructions and other times, you've kind of got to pull those instructions out so we find if we provide that education training piece, it makes our lives a lot easier and it makes the process more streamlined and, in theory, it should go a lot smoother and a lot faster.
With some of the technology that I've seen or heard about, particularly in the legal space I think, there's a large learning curve. It takes a long time to implement things, you sometimes need a consultant to come in to your business for months on end to train you on how to do it. What was the learning curve like for JIRA and the type of implementation time and effort required?
Sarah: The good thing about JIRA, and we've certainly found as we've had new members of team come on board or we've had temporary staff come in, but it is incredibly easy to use and doesn't require a lot of training at all. Once you have the link to the website, it's quite easy to see the jobs listed and action items that come in to the system and new tickets. I think Mel, for example, who's only been on the team for a few months now, I think she would have had a handle on it within the first few days, easily. We've tried to keep our workflow short, whereas the development team probably have a big kind of workflow for what they do, we've kind of narrowed ours down to like, in progress, red lines, external review, done. So you can obviously go back and forth between a few of those, you know, statuses, as the contracts are negotiated but it's simple and yeah, the system is very easy to use.
Are those stages that you just spoke about, is that in that Kanban style of a board, where you're dragging job so to speak, form one status to the other?
Sarah: Yes, that's exactly it so, as we move through the stages, we just simply change the status and then the next person, like if it's going back to the sales team, they'll then pick it up from their end.
And what would you say as being, I guess on one hand, the biggest benefits and, on the other hand, is there anything missing with the platform?
Anna: From an in-house legal team perspective, the reporting functionality in JIRA is a godsend because, you know, quite often, as an in-house team, you struggle to find ways to prove your benefits to the wider business and we can do that quite quickly because we can simply pull out a report that shows the total number of jobs we're working on at any given time, the number of those jobs that are with external partners, the number of jobs that we're working, ourselves, on and the number of jobs that we've closed in, say, the week before. So, that's a functionality that I have always struggled to find a good way to report, in the past, and also just having some kind of project management tool. In previous roles, it's been a very manual process, an Excel spreadsheet, for example. So I think JIRA tool is fantastic, for those two reasons.
Sarah: Probably my favourite thing about it is that we all have visibility. There's nothing on lock down in our system so I can see what Anna's working on and she can see what I'm working on but even beyond that, I guess when people go on leave, it's fantastic because Anna can add me as a watcher, for example, to one of her tickets and if there's any activity on that at all in her absence, I can make sure something's looked at or I can allocate it to another member of the team if it can't wait until her return and I think that's really fabulous. And the whole history's in the ticket, all the comments are in the ticket. There's no searching for emails or not understanding things. Everything is contained in that one ticket so it's really easy to transition if someone is on leave, you can pick up the ticket in their absence, review the ticket and be right up to speed with the job.
And just wondering, do the business get that visibility as well?
Anna: Yeah they do. Any person can go into the system and see what's happening on a given ticket. That's why we only keep our business as usual, day to day business in the JIRA ticket. All the more high-level, strategic stuff is worked on outside of JIRA.
Due to confidential nature of some of the things, we don't put employee-related issues, for example, through JIRA. Or if there's work that being worked on at a high-level, we keep that out of JIRA but everything else, yeah. People can have full visibility, it doesn't send an email to the entire business to tell them what's going on, but if someone wants to know what's going on, they can certainly go into the ticket and see.
That's great. And Mel, another lawyer in your legal team, did mention that you guys were using Slack, which is a, I guess, a very popular communications tool, particularly in the startup ecosystem. Are you using other tools as well? So what I guess is in the stack of software tools that you guys use in total?
Sarah: So we do use Slack, that's correct and we use that for internal communications. We also use Google Docs and we also use the Microsoft Office Suite as well. The reason that legal use both is because obviously not all companies use Google Docs and, in terms of red lines, we find that it is the easiest way to deal with external parties so we tend to do that contract review in Microsoft Word. We have what we call the Contracts Register, which was a tool actually developed by one of the other suite of companies that kind of started at Megaport and it was designed specifically to put our contracts into so it's a bespoke product that's not available to anyone else and it's a pretty basic system but it does the job. Our contracts can be uploaded to there, you can search in it and you can put a bit of a summary of the general terms and that's probably about it, in terms of what we use.
I was going to ask as the final question was there any software out there that you wish existed or would love to know about?
Anna: I think, from a contract management perspective, what we have, in terms of the Contracts Register, right now, is sufficient but certainly on my wishlist, would be a more sophisticated system that we could use to hold our documents and manage our documents. I guess similar to a Salesforce, but contract management, would be great.
It's funny you say similar to a Salesforce, there's a startup that is part of the Y Combinator incubator in the US so getting into that is tough as it is but they've just raised a bunch of finance and they're called Ironclad and their mission is to be the Salesforce for contract management so it's interesting that you say that because that's exactly the mission that they're on in the sort of contract management space.
Sarah: That sounds excellent. It definitely is a space that needs to be filled.
Yeah definitely. Well look, thank you so much of speaking with us, Anna and Sarah, really appreciate your time and your insights and, no doubt, plenty of, I guess your colleagues and peers will also really appreciate the insights you've given today, so thank you.
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