As a project manager, I’m sure you’ll agree with me on this:
When your project approval process sucks, it’s really hard to do your job well.
Your team hits every deadline…
The project is on schedule (and even better – on budget)…
But in the final hour, things bottleneck because your approval process is weak.
And that leaves you scrambling to avoid missing the project deadline or worse –
Struggling to keep your clients.
Here’s the good news:
It really only takes a few simple tweaks to see big improvements in your project approval process.
You might not believe it at first, but even the most dysfunctional sign-off process can make a dramatic turn for the better when you put these changes in action:
#1. Never miss the opportunity for a good ol’ fashioned project autopsy.
I’ll admit: few things are more painful than reliving a project-gone-bad.
Like a player who missed a game-winning shot, you just want to move on and not dwell on the past.
But, you gotta do it.
Pull back the sheet.
Do a full analysis of where the project went wrong.
And figure out the real problems in your project workflow.
And if you need a top-notch template for conducting a successful project post mortem meeting, you’re in luck:
I recently wrote a blog post that shows you how to do just that.
Now, I’m guessing that if you’re reading this post, you probably already have some idea of the snags in your current project approval process.
But when you take the time to actually map your entire project flow, you might be surprised to find gaps in the process you didn’t even know were there.
And once you know the problem, solving it becomes a whole lot less scary.
At that point, you’re able to actually put an action plan in place.
Which leads to my next tip…
#2. Always get stakeholders to sign-off on your workflow and project approval process.
Look, I get it: it’s easy to get frustrated with stakeholders for dragging their feet in approving your work.
But, the truth is, it’s not always their fault.
And guess who’s responsible for that?
The project manager…a.k.a. YOU.
That’s why it’s important you map out the exact project plan (including the approval process) before starting any work.
Stakeholder buy-in to your process flow ensures everyone’s on the same page about important deadlines and what needs to happen for your team to meet those deadlines.
(And that’s true whether you’re dealing with internal stakeholders or those on the client side.)
By gaining agreement on your process, you set clear expectations for what happens when the project approval process slows to a crawl.
Luckily, mapping your project plan isn’t complicated.
With the right tools, outlining your workflow should be a simple process.
Here’s a look at how we do it at Zapty:
We have different stages in our editorial workflow at the top, and then individual tasks within each step.
That way, stakeholders get an easy-to-understand view of every step in the workflow, including the project approval process at the end.
Of course, you might do everything right in gaining stakeholder sign-off and still deal with bottlenecks in your process.
In which case, here’s what you do:
#3. Break down big decisions into lots of smaller ones.
Get this: each of us makes up to 35,000 decisions each day.
Isn’t that crazy?
Of course, most of those are pretty minor choices…
What should I have for breakfast?
New dress or jeans and a t-shirt today?
And we make those decisions pretty quickly. The choices that take us a long time are the big ones that carry a lot of weight:
Who should I vote for?
Where should I live?
And most relevant to you:
Am I ready to sign-off on this project?
All too often, project managers leave stakeholders out of the process until the very end.
And I get why: you think it’s better to not bother them with minor details.
But really what’s happening is you’re forcing stakeholders to make one big decision rather than a bunch of smaller, simpler ones. So, remember this:
You can make small decisions quickly.
Big decisions take time and serious consideration.
It’s called decision fatigue and it’s often the reason your project approval process gets bottlenecked.
Jason Patrick explains it well on the Stage 2 Planning Partners blog:
“When you are making a small choice it’s really easy to change and try a new direction. It’s rare that any idea I’m working on is right the first time…The smaller the choice I’m working on, the easier it is to make a change. If I have to spend days, weeks or even months planning it’s going to be hard to change.”
And that’s why simplifying your sign-off process can be as simple as creating lots of smaller decisions.
In Zapty, those decisions are a simple click:
By now, I’m sure you’re wondering:
This is great, but what about external stakeholders?
That’s a fair question and I will admit, it does get a bit more complicated.
Of course, you don’t want to harass your clients with constant emails and phone calls asking for their approval on small project details.
But, you still want to be sure you’re breaking down the project approval process into a handful of smaller decisions.
So, here’s what you do:
#4. Insist on weekly status meetings with clients.
In fact, include weekly check-in calls in the workflow process that stakeholders sign-off on at the start of the project.
“I know prioritizing everything and making sure you deliver input or feedback to your agency in a timely manner can at times be challenging. But, with a weekly status meeting, you have this one time each week when you have to be ready…You’ll get in the habit of making the status meeting very productive because you’ll be handing off comments, approving concepts and estimates and your agency will leave with a list of things to do.”
No back-and-forth emails or annoying phone calls – just one brief status meeting where both sides come prepared to get work done.
See, I told you that fixing your project approval process could be pretty simple.
Hopefully, you’re feeling inspired and well-prepared to make some immediate changes to your workflow. After all, it’s those final few stakeholder sign-offs that can be the difference between hitting your deadlines or not.
And now it’s your turn:
What have you done to streamline your project approval process? Share your ideas below.