A necessary tool for specifying the characteristics of a project, a contract is a written document that defines in great detail what the project is ultimately supposed to be about. A contract may include price, performance, and any other objectives deemed important by the two parties between whom a transaction is taking place.
A technical specification on the other hand, is discussion of a particular point or issue that includes information to guide the team on how something is done and accomplished, a blueprint if you will.
While contracts and technical specifications are important and essential, they are rarely comprehensible. Innocuous at best, and a downright horrifying labyrinth of jargon at worse, contracts and technical specifications are paragraph upon paragraph of legal mumbo jumbo. They can be incomplete, unclear and sometimes even completely contradictory. Well written or not, it is imperative to glean the necessary information that ensures both parties are in clear agreement.
Here are a few tips on how to read and decipher your project contracts and technical specifications so as to not miss any piece of vital information.
1. Agree on the Terms before the Contract is Drawn
Keeping in mind that all individual projects are different, and have different requirements and technicalities involved, it is necessary to determine just how important this particular project is to you. Agree on and clearly outline the terms of the agreement that you are about to commit to. Precisely define what each term indicates and then have the contract drawn up.
2. Read Thoroughly & Take Notes
Once the contract is drawn up, do not be hasty in signing on the dotted line. Remember the contract is legally binding. Request time to review the paperwork without distractions and interruptions. Read the contract cover to cover. After you have read it once, read again and this time underline important points and take notes. Understand the common terms and prepare questions if there are any ambiguities. When you are going over technical specifications, ask yourself what you are expecting to learn from it. Your reading should be analytical at this point in time so that you are able to understand in detail what it is that is required of you.
3. Never Assume Anything
The most difficult part of the any contract or document are assumptions. All contracts can be re-written. Keep that in mind and do not be afraid to ask questions, simplifications, and clarifications. Even if you do have a general understanding of what any particular point could mean, ask just to be clear anyway. It is better to appear a little slow or dumb than to be stuck in a legal contract with ramifications. Be vigilant for any external references or sources.
4. Do a “Page Turn” with Key Stakeholders
Discuss the contract and the technical specifications provided by the client with key members of the project handling team. It is a precautionary step for them to pick out any point that may have been overlooked in the initial review. If the team members feel that there is lack of sufficient safeguard of interests, additional revisions can be requested by the client. This can be accomplished through several sessions of reading the contract and technical specs by projecting it on a screen (called a “Page Turn”). Participation by all stakeholders should be mandatory during the kickoff period of the contract.
5. Get Second Opinions
No layperson is expected to completely comprehend the complex wordings of a legal contract, thus it is always a sensible decision to get a second or even third opinion. Hire a lawyer to go over the contracts and technicalities with a fine toothcomb until you are in complete accord with what has been stated and only then sign on that paper.
Do you have any tips to share with our readers? Do you have an interesting story to share about a contract you signed? Feel free to leave a comment, we can’t wait to hear from you.