How To Create A Semi-Automated Contract Review Process

When manufacturing, or working with manufacturing, there is nothing worse than waiting 6 weeks for an order to be completed only to find out it is incorrect.

The customer is waiting, you said you would have parts…

… but you have nothing.

Even worse is looking into the problem only to find that you ordered the wrong part!

Not only is the customer upset with you, but there is no one to blame - you or your company made a small error and ordered the wrong thing!

Contract Review

That is the purpose of the contract review. It is a reconciliation of 2 documents and a process:

  1. The customer order to you
  2. Resulting orders to suppliers
  3. Process of filling the customer order

So if your customer orders an assembly, and this results in you ordering parts, subcomponents, or raw material - you would make sure you are ordering the correct parts, materials, revision, etc. You would also make sure you have the capacity, equipment, and knowledge to complete the order as the customer has placed it including lead time, price, part and customer requirements, standards, or anything else on their order.

The review goes even deeper as the customer requirements increase. Often times, the customer order will come with various requirements including:

  • how the order is inspected pre-shipment
  • certifications or documents that must be included
  • suppliers that must be utilized for certain processes

The longer the lead time, and the more important the customer or order, the more critical a contract review processes becomes.

A good contract review goes even deeper than checking the orders. It reviews if you have everything necessary to supply the part once your orders come in.

  • Do you have the gauging necessary to inspect already on hand?
  • Do you have the tooling necessary to produce?
  • Have you tested that heat of metal at the approved tester yet?

You don’t want to wait 6-8 weeks for parts to come in only to start the process of getting ready for the customer order and then find out there is another process which will take 4 more weeks - that could have been done while waiting from he parts or components to come in.

Lower costs by doing it once

In contractor work, most of the work is fixed price. So the less time you spend per customer, the higher your margins are. We have seen a basic contract review in plumbing, HVAC, and smaller industrial companies lower costs by 10% over the course of a year.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have some customers that supply aerospace customers, and are thus mandated to be compliant with AS9100 and thus must perform a contract review.

The problem is, this process is essentially a double check. And experience tells us that when resource poor, whether it is time or money, these are the first things to go out the door. Processes or procedures which aren’t necessary to get and sell them parts become optional.

This is where automation can help. By automating a large part of the process, it can make it much easier to carry out consistently for shops that are low on time and labor.

The following example is going to illustrate buying components for an aerospace company. However, you can use this for HVAC, gas & water, industrial, machining, assembly, or any other manufacturing or industrial company. Anywhere you are

  • getting a customer order that has a specific requirement, or
  • there is danger of having the wrong part, or
  • multiple long processes you don’t want to get stuck doing later resulting in a delayed delivery.


There are all different ways to do this. We have used everything from free software and integrations to fully customized software for more complex systems.

Here we are going to use simple tools almost anyone can access and implement.

Putting It All Together

Email will be used to originate communication with the supplier and send them the the order and any other documents.

Trello, a kanban like tool, will be used to capture this order and create a checklist which will be our contract review

Butler is what we will use to automate some time consuming features, keeping everything smooth running and low maintenance.

Finally Slack will be used as a type of search and monitoring tool for management as well as history search.


The first step, before building the system is to design the actual review. You can take a look at our series on lowering supplier risk for ideas on how to look historically for issues that can cost you time and money, and should thus be checked.

For our purposes, let’s assume our review is based on the following main points:

  • We want to make sure we order the parts we are expected to deliver to the customer
  • We want to make sure we follow all flow-down requirements
  • We want to make sure we use approved suppliers for all post-production processes
  • We want to make sure we can inspect these parts appropriately

From here we work backwards on each point to find what we want our reviewer to check for. It should be noted that once implemented, this is an iterative processes. We work with current customers to improve this process 2-4 times per year based on what has happened.

Understand the customer order

Our customer placed an order, let’s say for an assembly of 3 parts used in an LED lighting fixture.

The first question we must ask is “Do we understand the customer order?”

This may sound foolish, but often times the order is sent over with implied understanding, not implicit understanding. They assume we understand the part, or the fixture. However, purchase orders are contracts, and you want to be sure that you have everything you need so you can deliver the order without any risk of ambiguity. So consider the following points:

  1. Do we have a purchase order from the customer?
  2. Is the order above the minimum quantity?
  3. Is the order at the price we quoted?
  4. Do we have the current revision print or industry standard needed to order and understand the order?

Make sure the parts are ordered correctly

The second question we ask is “What can go wrong with these parts that would cause the customer to reject”

  1. It could be the wrong material
  2. It could be dimensionally incorrect
  3. It could be the wrong hardness, or not heat treated with the correct process
  4. It could be plated wrong
  5. It could be plated by the wrong plater (not on the approved list)

Confirm we can meet all the contract requirements

The third question is “Are we prepared to produce/assemble the order once the parts are in? Issue here relate to internal preparedness, so consider:

  1. Do we have the tools or fixtures needed to produce or assemble?
  2. Do we have the proper gauging or tools necessary for inspection

One last step that is crucial to design of a working contract review is what type of “check” is necessary? We have found that for smaller, easy to check items, a checkmark is fine. However, when it comes to important aspects like material, requiring a field to be filled causes the reviewer to look harder at the information and catch issues with a much higher accuracy. The tradeoff is the time it takes to fill out a field.

With all of this info we are ready to create our contract review!!


Our first step will be to create the contract review in Trello. We will use Trello for a few reasons.

  • There is a very usable free tier which will work for many small companies
  • The kanban style of movement mimics a pipeline workflow which is useful for step by step processes like a contract review
  • There are a lot of easily configurable integrations which help add features
  • The software itself is very intuitive to use
  • There are browser, desktop and smart phone apps making it easy to access from anywhere.

If you don’t have an account, you’ll need to sign up.

Signing up for Trello


  1. Go to Trello and click sign up
  2. Enter your name, email, and password
  3. Confirm your email address



That’s It!

Understanding Trello

Trello is a basic Kanban system. Think of it as 3x5 cards that you place in a pipeline. You can attached and write all kinds of information on the card, and that card moves through a pipeline eventually being completed.

Let’s use an example to show the usefulness of Trello as well as introduce some of the basic terminology.

We start with boards. A Board in Trello is simply a new pipeline. What do I mean by pipeline? Anytime you have a process that has a number of steps, this is a type of pipeline. Some examples of pipelines in your business may be:

  • Quoting pipeline consisting of leads, prospects, quoting, closed
  • Shipment pipeline consisting of shipment request, packaged, shipped, tracking sent
  • Task pipeline consisting of to do, in process, done


Anytime an entity moves along a “conveyor belt” of activities, it is a pipeline. Trello helps us keep information related to these pipelines and makes it available to everyone, searchable, and archived for later retrieval.

In the above examples the boards would set the context and be labeled something like

  • Quoting
  • Outgoing Shipments
  • Tasks respectively.

The steps in the pipeline are called lists.

Finally we have cards. Each Card is an instance or entity moving through the pipeline. So each shipment would get a card to attach all information regarding that shipment.


I believe using is the best way to learn. So let’s begin building our Contract Review pipeline.

Building our Contract Review Process

Because Contract Reviews are a sequential set of steps, they lend themselves to the kanban views of Trello.

Another great feature of Trello that comes in handy with important processes and pipelines is the activity tracking. Every time a user adds info, adjusts information, or moves a card, the activity gets recorded. As an owner wanting to stay caught up on what is happening in your business can review these logs at any point to determine things like:

  • Are things getting done? (quotes, shipments, tasks, etc)
  • How long is it taking?
  • Who is doing what?

For our purpose, we will create a board called Contract Review to create our pipeline.


Create a new board labeled “Contract Review”


Open that board and create some lists to track this process through. I’ll use:

  1. To Be Reviewed
  2. In Review
  3. Awaiting Correction
  4. Accepted



Create one more list called “Template”.


We will create a card here that we can change and which will automatically change our process. This card will be our template contract review.


It is actually possible to do this without having a template board, but it requires coding the review directly into the script rather than just have the script copy the template. So every time you want to make a change, you would have to adjust the programing rather than just adjust the template card.

Create a template card for the contract review


Now open that card and let’s create that contract review.


We need to consider what needs to be checked and create some checklists. Apart from this we need to consider if the checks are checkmarks or fields to fill in.

For this process the really important aspects are:

  • correct part
  • correct material
  • correct heat treatment
  • correct plating

So for these I will use a field, for others I will use a checkmark. My checklists will include:

  • What was the part ordered by the customer? (Field)
  • What was the revision of the part ordered? (Field)
  • What were the specific requirements or codes associated with the order? (Field)
  • Who is the customer? (Field)
  • What is the customer’s PO number? (field)
  • Do we have the print or specification on hand?
  • Do we have all gauges needed to measure each dimensions?
  • What is the material on the print?
  • What is the material ordered?
  • What is the finish ordered?
  • What is the finish on the print?
  • What are any APQP concerns the suppliers should know about?
  • Is the supplier qualified to produce this part given the customer’s requirements?
  • Are secondary processes required
  • Are the POs already made up?
  • What are the PO numbers?
  • Do we have the proper gauging to inspect this part?

Now trello allows power-ups which add features and integrations to each card and board. On the free plan you are only allowed one power-up. We will be using Butler later on. However, if you pay for a plan, you can add multiple power-ups including custom fields. This would allow you to create fields to be filled in like this.


This gives us some great features besides the obvious custom fields. For one, we can create any checkbox, text field, number field, or even dropdown (like I did with customers)


Even better, as employees enter and change information, a complete audit log is kept showing the changes, who made it and when. Whether tracking for productivity, or maintaining an audit log of when actions where completed, this is invaluable. Later we will show how to bring this to an activity feed that owners and managers can monitor in real time or while remote… for free.


The last minor benefit is that these custom fields are shown right on the card and thus easy to spot when viewing a whole board full of contract reviews.


However, we will get more value from a different extension known as Butler later, so for our free version, we are going to use the Description field to create our fields.

In creating the description, Trello allows you to use markdown. markdown is a way of writing rich text (bold, underline, headers, etc) all with characters instead of choosing options. It allows you to write more fluidly. Basically all we really care about here is that two asterisks make a word bold.

So bold



So we can create a description that allows us to have multiple custom fields that looks like this …


… by typing a description like this:


We now have the makings of a contract review template. This template will be the base for each Purchase Order (contract) we receive from customers, or purchase order we make to our suppliers in order to fulfill a customer’s contract.

At this point, we now have to copy this card each time we want to do a new review. That can become burdensome and can easily be automated.

Let’s start by initiating this process through an email.


Most orders are received or sent through email. So this is a great place to initiate a new contract review.

I can think of two main circumstances where we would want to have an order checked:

  1. When we receive a customer order, we would want it reviewed in order to make sure we can meet all the conditions and satisfy all the requirements
  2. When we place an order to help us fulfill a customer order, we want to make sure it will help us fill that order quickly and correctly.

With this in mind, we would want to create reviews when we

  1. receive a customer order
  2. send a supplier order (related to a customer order)

Email Structure

Every email has three to fields

  • To
  • CC
  • BCC

The third one can be quite useful for us in this circumstance. It is Blind Carbon Copy. It allows us to send emails to an address that other’s on the email can not see.

Trello Board Settings

Another interest fact is that every board in Trello has its own email address!

When we send an email to a Trello Board

  • it creates a new card in a list we choose
  • makes the title of the card equal to the email subject line
  • creates various various tags and members based on content
  • makes the body of the email the description
  • attaches all the attachments from the email to the card

So let’s set this up correctly.

Go to

  • Show Menu
  • More
  • Email to Board Setting




We want all new emails to be listed in the To Be Reviewed list and added to the bottom. This way we will have oldest first as we build the review list.


Add the Board as a Contact

The email address to use is somewhat unkind, so what we do is add that email address to our contacts using the name Contract Review.

Now, every time we do an email has a contract which should be reviewed, we can simply add Contract Review to the BCC line and it will use the email, the attached order, and any other information and create a new card in the list To Be Reviewed


While this is all helpful, it still leaves us with the need to manually copy our template over to the email-created-card without losing any of the current information

Enter Butler


Trello comes with a number of integrations to add more features to boards, lists, and cards. They call these integrations Power-Ups.

If you go back to menu, you can see as one of the options Power-Ups.


The one we want to add is called Butler by Ludable LLC. Find this power-up and click enable in the upper right corner.


If done correctly, the Power-Up menu choice will now show a number next to it indicating you have 1 power-up on this board.


Trello’s free plan allows one power-up per board for free.

We now get a Butler Button in the top right of our board to add features from this power-up.


Butler is an extremely powerful power-up which enables a lot of automation limited only by your creativity . Some of the things you can do include:

  • create buttons in each card to automate certain actions including dates, members, labels, moving cards, adding content, etc.
  • automatically adding team members depending on the list a card is in
  • setting or removing dates or labels based on the action of the card
  • automatically setting due dates and members based on checklist completion
  • Moving the card based on actions taken within it.
  • automatically adding checklists and content based on a card’s status

While there are 100’s more implementations you can carry out, it is the last one mentioned here that we will use for our automation scheme here.

Click “Get Started” and then agree to the terms and authorize Butler. Butler is an application outside of Trello, so it needs access to your Trello board, and this requires your permission.


Creating a Rule

Once we have everything integrated, we are going to add a rule. So go to the rules tab and then select the button to + create new rule.


Each rule consists of a trigger and an action.

There are over 20 different type of triggers that Butler offers. The one we are interested in is the creation of a new card. Our goal is to automatically make our template “appear” in a new card. This way, when we email our contract review, it will not only create a new card in the “to be reviewed” list, but automatically apply the checklists and content as well.


So let’s change the settings so that the trigger is a new card created by anyone. To do that make sure

  1. You are in the rules tab
  2. You are in the movement section of the rules tab
  3. The Added in option is selected
  4. The by anyone option is selected

Then hit the “+” button to the right to add this trigger.

Our action is going to be to add all checklists from our template as well as the content in our description.

We could put our checklists and content right into Butler and get rid of our template card. However, each time we wanted to make a change, we would have to edit Butler instead of just adjusting our template card. Using a template card allows for easier iterative improvement.


To create the action make sure

  1. You are in the checklist part of the actions
  2. In the second options down you choose add, type “Order Verification”, select the bullseye and type the name of the template card “Contract Review Template”

note: In order for the rule to work, the checklist name and template card name must be typed exactly as they are written on the card title and checklist title


Do this for all the checklists on your template card.


For the description, Butler does not allow us to copy over, so we must go to the template card, copy the description, and then paste it in the correct spot.

So first save the current rule.

Then go to the template card and copy the text from the description.

Then edit the rule and go to description part of the actions, and paste in the card description.


Save and exit!

Now, whenever we email a review to the board, it will auto populate with the description and checklists.


The last part of this automation concerns building an activity feed and/or audit log.

This will help managers or business owners follow activity without having to ask for reports or wasting the reviewers time documenting what they are doing.

In our experience, the best automation is one that performs records, shares, and analyzes as a result of performing a task, not in addition to

What is Slack

Slack is a private chat that allows one to one chat, group chat focused on topic, and private group chats.

When introduced, this company quickly become one of the fastest growing companies in history. It has gone on to become one of the most widely used tools in business across the world.

In slack there are workspaces. This is a contained area of chat, and you must be invited (or create) a workspace to enter. Once there you can chat with members, or chat within any of the create topics.

Community organizations, schools and colleges, businesses, teams, and government agencies use slack and own workspaces around their missions.

So what made Slack the go-to tool for all internal communication?


Slack has the most extensive array of integrations from email to Dropbox, QuickBooks, to almost any app you use or have heard of.

Beyond this, slack allows developers to build “bots” on its platform to automate various tasks such as distributing meetings notes, booking work travel, or ordering lunch.

This is what makes Slack such a great tool to improve your business.

So let’s get to creating a workspace for your company.

Setting up your workspace

Start by going to the Slack Homepage and clicking Get Started. What you will want to do for your company is create a workspace.


The follow the prompts.

Enter your work email.


It should then send you a code to that email address. So retrieve it and enter it in order to verify that your email is correct.


Next, enter your name, and the name you want your company to see when interacting with you.


Finally set a password for your account.


Slack then adds a few survey questions to help them understand their users. Fill those out however you would like, the answers don’t change anything about the product itself.

It is now time to name your workspace.


Part of naming the workspace, is choosing what is called the subdomain. While Slack does have a number of apps for windows, mac, iOS, android, and anything else; you can also access it online from any computer at anytime. To do this you would go to xxxx.slack.com. Choose those “xxxx”s is choosing the subdomain.


Finally, invite any other users to the platform that are in your company, and you are in!

The Interface In Under 60 Seconds

While there are many in-depth such as here, I’ll walk you through the basics in under 60 seconds.


  1. Shows other people in your organization that have access to Slack. You can chat and interact with these people.
  2. Shows direct conversations with other individuals in your organization. These are 1:1 private conversations.
  3. Shows public conversations. For the most part, these are in order by subject, and can be viewed and utilized by anyone in the organization.
  4. This shows the conversation you are currently in.
  5. This is where you type messages for the #general conversation.
  6. Use this symbol to mention other people. They will be notified.

Adding the integration

Let’s get back to our Contract Review Process.

What we want to do is create an audit trail of sorts. Let’s assume the owner travels quite a bit, but wants to be kept up to date on contract reviews. Or perhaps you would like a log of all changes and updates in the contract review process which you can search.

What we are going to do is make each change to the Contract Review Trello board update our slack channel.

First we need to add the Trello integration to Slack.

Let’s add a channel to hold these updates first. I am going to create a channel named #purchasing which will hold all updates and conversations pertaining to purchasing, including Contract Reviews.



At this point there is no one to invite, so creating the channel with a name is good enough.

Now we need to add the Trello application to that channel.




For this project, we want Trello Alerts.

Authenticate your Trello account. This allows Slack to talk to Trello, and the other way around.


Now it is time to setup the alerts we want.



  • Lists: When it comes to lists, we won’t really be changing this. The workflow is already setup, so these shouldn’t change. For that reason, I don’t see a need to get notified about lists.
  • Cards: For This particular use case, this is where the real value lies. Anytime information gets added to a card, we can be notified. This will create a log in the messages area of our #purchasing channel.
  • Checklists: The same checklists are added to each new card, so the creation of checklists is not helpful, but a log on certain components bringing checked could be important, so we will include those.

I like my alerts to be easy to spot. Assuming in the future we will have conversations and other notifications in the purchasing channel, I added an icon of a contract, and named it Contract Review.


We have now setup our alert. Give it a test run!

The Entire Workflow

So a look at the big picture workflow

  1. Create an order with a supplier
  2. Email the order, prints, and any documentation
  3. Bcc your contract review address on the order
  4. That will create a contract review card with all attachments in Trello
  5. It will notify Slack (and anyone monitoring via Slack) that it was created/placed
  6. All updates and reviews will be posted to Slack.

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