Pearson's transformation is one of the best-known success stories in legal ops. We caught up with legal COO, Bob Mignanelli, to find out how Pearson created the Transaction Services Center.
Hi! 👋 Who are you?
I'm Bob Mignanelli, SVP & COO, Legal & Associate General Counsel Technology & Operations at Pearson.
Great to meet you! You’ve been through lots of change during your 18 years at Pearson. What does the legal function look like now?
One of our strategic goals at Pearson is to become a simpler, more efficient and more sustainable company. A key part of this is our shift to digital, a move which has influenced all parts of the company, including the legal function. We have about 125 people in legal at Pearson, split fairly evenly between attorneys and other professional staff. We are a matrix organization comprised of specialists and generalists. Our internal capabilities are focused on providing legal services to enable the day-to-day operation of the business and to address the company’s primary legal risk areas. We operate globally, with the bulk of our team in the US, UK, South America, China, and South Africa.
Can you give us an idea of the scale of the transformation in legal during that time?
Our overall objective to deliver high-quality legal services to the company hasn’t changed, but the makeup and size of the team, and how we deliver those services, have changed significantly. We’ve become a smaller, more nimble department over the last five years, which has required us to step back to look at how we can meet ever-rising demand for services while continuing to deliver them at a high level.
For us, that’s about ensuring we have the right resource delivering the right service at the right time. That’s what we’ve been focusing on in the last several years, and it’s been one of the key drivers behind structural changes. Historically, we were an extremely flat and siloed function. In 2013 Pearson reorganized into a centralized, matrixed organization. In 2014, Bjarne Tellmann joined as our General Counsel and one of the first initiatives we undertook was to reorganize the department to align to the new corporate structure.
The legal function now is less siloed, more matrixed, and aligned to our overall corporate structure. That means we have teams supporting geographies, product lines, corporate enabling functions, and specialist groups which cover areas such as M&A, data privacy, litigation, compliance, and anti-competition. Our mandate was to evolve along with the company, and that’s what we’ve done.
You’ve been delivering a huge transformation project in the last 18 months - can you tell us about it?
"Technology should be part of the overall solution and not purchased because it is the shiny new thing on the market. It is critical that you first identify the problem you are seeking to solve"
In 2017 we decided to create a Transaction Services Center (TSC): a single function within the legal department responsible for the end-to-end handling of certain categories of commercial transactions for a number of our businesses. The TSC’s initial geographic scope included North America, the UK, South Africa and Australia, but has since expanded to serve other locations too.
Our primary goals were:
- to consolidate the delivery of legal services for the in-scope work;
- to deliver those services through standard processes, workflows and templates, and
- to optimize the technology being used.
The idea was to move the delivery of those services from a concierge model to a standardized, process-driven model underpinned by a single technology platform. During the latter part of 2017, we kicked off the design phase of the project, which included a current state analysis, market research, model evaluation, sourcing options – whether to handle it in-house or outsource it – and identifying the work categories that we thought would be appropriate for the TSC. Ultimately, we decided on a hybrid model, consisting of a small internal Pearson team and a larger team of resources from an external partner.
In parallel, we did a market review of the available technology that could facilitate our target operating model for the Center. Our guiding principle was that the technology should be part of the overall solution and not purchased because it is the shiny new thing on the market. It is critical that you first identify the problem you are seeking to solve, optimize the processes related to the problem, and then apply the technology best suited to automate the process and drive results.
With our target operating model, design, partner, and technology selected we began our implementation phase in early 2018, in 90-day sprints, with specific work categories being migrated in each sprint. During each sprint we designed processes, built playbooks, created standard templates, and implemented our tech platform for the work being brought over in that sprint. As each sprint concluded we began the build phase of the next one while initiating service delivery for the work in the recently completed sprint.
What were you looking to solve?
We needed to solve two key things:
- intake (demand management)
- workflow and service delivery efficiency
Historically, intake took place in the usual ways - via an email, or a phone call, or an IM. Instead, we wanted to create a web portal for service requests that would allow for self-service by our business colleagues, automated routing of requests to the right legal resource, and data-driven insights on the nature and quantity of the demand for services. We knew we needed to strike the right balance between ease of use and robust system functionality that would automate the routing of service requests, while creating records and data for each request.
This was a key outcome for us, so we could learn from it and continually improve our operations. As part of the tech platform, we also implemented a contract lifecycle management and workflow tool, and a self-serve NDA solution, to facilitate service delivery for the Transaction Services Center.
How different is the new process?
From a workflow and efficiency perspective, the TSC has transformed our delivery of legal services for the in-scope work. To date, we’ve brought more than 80 workstreams into the Center. For each workstream, we have created standard playbooks and system templates; designed or re-engineered the service delivery process; provided training; and implemented a single, standard technology solution.
The standardization of processes and workstreams across our business and geographies (with business-specific and local adjustments as necessary), combined with our technology solution, has been very powerful. It has provided us with one system that drives the Center, and that collects data on all our intake and demand, status, workflow, and phase of each matter. We have the ability to filter and report on the data by business unit, type of matter, and so on, which allows us to resource appropriately, scale up and down as we need to, continuously improve our operations, and strategically partner with the business.
What have been the results?
It’s been transformative compared to how we historically delivered services now being handled by the Center. Prior to establishing the Center, we were delivering high-quality services but the delivery methods weren’t consistent or optimized across the department. We also weren’t effectively utilizing a standard technology platform for intake and delivery, which limited our ability to gather and analyse operational data. We now have an in-depth understanding of the work flowing through our Center across all the workstreams, monitor our turnaround times, and (crucially) see our data over time so we can increase our ability to partner strategically with the business to help them meet their objectives.
We also found that we were able to take steps out of the process where legal didn't need to be involved. This has resulted in less friction in the deal process, which has really helped reduce cycle times and churn. It has also helped working with the commercial teams because it helps them meet their objectives more quickly.
We’ve had fantastic results to date but for us it’s just the starting point – we are looking to build off of everything we’ve done to better partner with the business and help drive their objectives.
What benefits does all that data bring in terms of transparency?
The matters we work on in Legal often require input from many parts of the organization, which tends to increase the overall cycle time for a matter. Oftentimes the business colleagues we're working with aren’t aware of the broader stakeholder participation and this can lead to people assuming legal is not being responsive, or slowing things down. If you have a good understanding of deal workflow and robust data, you are able to identify the stakeholders who need to provide input so that the issues holding a matter up can be quickly resolved.
"Data transparency can help our business colleagues to understand that we’re a partner to them, and that’s what we want to be. We don’t want to simply be a checkbox or a necessary approval step"
It might be that the product or tech teams need to weigh in on customer functional requirements or finance needs to provide direction on payment or pricing issues. Culturally, it’s really useful to broaden that conversation with transparency. It helps colleagues to be successful and to understand where the bottlenecks are, and also who the other stakeholders are when it comes to getting deals done – it’s rare that it’s just the requester and legal in that process.
More than that, data transparency can help our business colleagues to understand that we’re a partner to them, and that’s what we want to be. We don’t want to simply be a checkbox or a necessary approval step. With transparency can come those opportunities for cultural change. Having accurate, real-time data makes the difference because it facilitates understanding and helps takes the subjectivity out of situations.
It can also help you spot issues and triage risks. You may be able to make smarter decisions and adjustments: for example, if you have contracts data, and you can spot consistent negotiation points you can have conversations with your business colleagues on whether it would it be advantageous to modify those terms so that you are not consistently spending time and resources on them. Understanding this type of transactional data and using it to partner with your business colleagues is another way to remove friction from the deal process and increase the velocity of completed work.
Is this specific to transactional work?
My lens on this tends to be rooted in my background as a technology transactional lawyer, but this approach is also true for other areas like litigation, data privacy, compliance, product development, and so on. Gathering and analyzing data allows legal to partner with the business to make intelligent decisions, allows us to improve the efficiency of our operations, and gives us the ability to tell our story on how we are helping the business meet its objectives.
Historically, I think legal was viewed as a distinct, separate, department that people had to make a special effort to consult with – a necessary approval step to getting a project completed. Our goal as a department is to be a genuine strategic partner, and to do that we need to understand data, project management, strategy, technology, and finance. This allows us to talk the same language as the business so that we can enable them to meet their objectives while protecting the interests of the company.
How important do you think change management is to success in legal operations?
A key success factor for any transformation project is change management. It’s as important as the subject matter expertise in tactical areas you’ll need to address. If you don’t get that right then the probability that your initiative will succeed greatly reduces. We focused on that in all our big projects - change management and project management have been the two must-haves to drive success.
How do you get it right?
What we found is that a focus on simple, clear communication around the ‘why’, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of your project is critical. It’s also important to understand and address the impact of the project, and its timeline, on users and customers. Impacts of changes in how legal services are delivered are felt way beyond the legal team - business colleagues have to know what’s coming.
The ‘how’ becomes very important. People really want to know in explicit detail what’s going to happen and how it will impact their day-to-day jobs. If you have a sound reason for the change that you can articulate clearly and succinctly, you have a much better chance of getting buy-in for your project, even if people are initially skeptical or disagree with the direction of travel.
Regardless of the reasons for change, you need to make sure people understand the catalyst for the change, the value of the project to the organization, and why they should buy-in. This honesty should confront and reconcile any initial skepticisms or disagreement around the direction of the decision-making and help embed the new culture through ways of working.
How did you communicate the process changes you made?
We communicated changes through different channels to ensure we capitalized on every opportunity to speak to the changes. We provided written, live, and recorded training, self-serve resources for later on, and web portals with training collections to provide as many touchpoints and interactive opportunities as possible.
These proactive measures were designed to strengthen our culture as well as explain the changing processes and operations that were forthcoming.
Focusing on simple, clear communications surrounding the changes – both on a personal level regarding an individual’s day-to-day job, as well as how we would work with the business – was critical for buy-in of the project. Training and regular communication made the changes seem relevant, manageable and provided greater confidence in embracing the new culture, our ability to deliver and the overall direction of the project.
Make people feel like you understand that the change might be hard for them, and you’re here to take the journey with them, rather than imposing something and walking away.
Thanks Bob! 🙌