How to set up approval processes that work

Obtaining approval from your project team members to continue workflows, meet deadlines, etc., can be an arduous experience. You have to think about managing the logistics– like sending and receiving documents from the right people, keeping track of emails, and scheduling meetings to discuss approvals and feedback.

When finding the right approval process that works for your team, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1) Determine the inherent problems within your approval process:
Delays and bottlenecks: can happen due to too many or too few approvers/project owners.
Gaps in communication: when things are due, who is doing what task next? What parts of the project need to be approved?
Errors: we’re all humans here, so human error or oversights are bound to happen, this can also be caused by confusion in your file versioning process.

2) Industry approval workflows can vary- determine your department’s current process.
• Publishing or any type of content and creative department typically have linear chain of commands when it comes to approvals. For example:
writer – sr. writer/managing editor – designer – creative director – sr. dept. manager
• Does your department/team use an internal software to streamline this process?
If your team uses a project management tool, it can give you a broader range of abilities for each approval step. Additionally, it can assign out specific tasks to individuals on your team.

3) Improve efficiency where you can– recommendations:
Do not rely on e-mail: for the sake of your team’s sanity in the middle of busy work days, steer clear of email as your primary approval channel. Too often important documents are lost in the sea of unread emails, which could put your deadlines in danger if awaiting approval from a colleague.
Define the approver roles: outline the roles and expectations of those who are deemed part of the approval workflow, and the next person in the chain of approval command. This eliminates confusion, and perhaps the anxiety of wondering who is responsible for approving your task.
Review your process: give your team 30, 60, or how many ever days to see if your approval system works or not. That way at the end of the trail period, you can assess gaps, opportunities and efficiencies.
Define feedback expectations: document the set of expectations on the types of feedback. To keep the workflow moving toward deadline, make an instruction guide to ensure the approver is providing the most direct feedback.

The approval process should be designed to make every step count so your team, and your stakeholders receive quality and timely work. If your team works together to clearly define the stages and expectations of your approval workflow, you can expect the entire process to flow more smoothly, with less delays or challenges to ensure deadlines are met as often as possible!