Most organizations have a “chain of command” for reviewing and approving work. Whether it’s advertising creative, content marketing pieces, product design concepts, proposals, or presentations, there’s typically a process—formal or informal—for getting sign-offs from stakeholders on every product that goes out the door.
But in too many cases, this process becomes a jumbled mess of delays, hold-ups, and snags that result in overwhelming stress, frustration, and irritation—or worse, missed deadlines and missed business opportunities.
See "How Has the Creative Review and Approval Process Changed Since the 1990s?" for some interesting insight into how teams are more collaborative today than ever before.
More than 90% of workers we surveyed say that the inability to get out of their own way when it comes to review and approval is a major obstacle, and one in five say it regularly delays projects by more than a week.
And, depending on the product—a proposal, content marketing piece, or creative for social marketing, for example—delayed approvals can stall the project to the point that it’s no longer even relevant. Talk about wasted effort and opportunity!
If your organization is one in which every project leaves you thinking “there has to be a better way!”….you’re in luck.
To help you get and STAY on track, we’ve compiled seven of our best review and approval process hacks that can restore sanity and order, help get your projects out the door on time, and keep your blood pressure in check.
1. Create Structure
A disorderly and unstructured review and approval process can spell disaster even among the most well-oiled teams and organizations. It demands a defined, step-by-step process in which everyone knows exactly what to do and when.
At the outset of any project, define a “template” to guide the review and approval process. Start by notifying reviewers when the material will be ready so they can block out time for review in their schedule.
Then, distribute the first draft and set a deadline for feedback. Next, update the content and then redistribute the new version to those who will give final approval (along with a deadline, of course). Finally, revise and prepare the final version for distribution.
While your process might look slightly different, the key here is to create a template that works for your team and your environment, so that everyone knows what’s expected of them and when.
2. Trim the Chain
You’ve probably heard the saying “too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the soup.” This is also true in the review/approval chain.
Sometimes teams invite as many people as possible to review content because they’re unsure of the content or quality, and as a type of “insurance,” assume that more eyes (or ears) are better. But in reality, this can just bog down the process or take the project on a wild tangent.
Instead, be selective about the number and relevancy of reviewers you bring into a project. Ask yourself, “Is he/she qualified? Available? Able to provide salient input, and fast? Does his/her feedback offer a new or potentially overlooked perspective?” If not, do yourself (and them) a favor and trim them out of the chain of review.
3. Stop the Merry-Go-“Rounds”
So, you’ve got a great second draft and you’re nearing the home stretch for final approval. And then, it happens: someone suggests you send it around one more time “just to be safe.” And, the merry-go-rounds begin!
Nearly 60% of folks we surveyed said their projects see five or more rounds of review, and 14% endured 10 or more. No wonder projects can’t get out the door! Each round introduces the potential for a slight tweak or a new edit that sends the project off into an entirely new direction.
Stop the vortex by starting off with a better plan at the beginning. Using a project brief to capture the purpose, scope, and key ingredients for the project can ensure that it kicks off with all the information needed and critical input is included from the beginning. This avoids the need to send it ‘round and ‘round for input at the end.
4. Set Deadlines and a “Move On” Default Up Front
When reviewers are selected in your organization, are they made aware of the critical role they play in the project’s success? If not, they might not fully grasp the importance of their timely response.
Or, in some cases, ego might drive some to intentionally hold up the project just because they can—because everyone is waiting with bated breath on THEIR input.
Put a stop to this bottleneck by clearly communicating the urgency with which reviews will be expected up front and get reviewers’ firm commitment that they will adhere to the project timeline. In making this commitment they also agree to the “move on” clause—if they fail to meet a deadline, the project continues on with or without their input.
5. Communicate Consequences
Part of the reason reviewers might dawdle is that they’re unaware of the consequences of their inaction.
They may not realize that their failure to respond in a timely manner—or to request massive edits late in the process—not only impacts the current project, but also causes other projects in the queue to be “reprioritized,” creating a domino effect of late, rescheduled, and requeued projects that keeps the entire team feeling like they’re caught on a hamster wheel of stress.
Help reviewers to understand the consequences of missed deadlines or drastic changes by communicating the impact of those process glitches. Simply stated, if X happens then Y will follow. Helping reviewers step out of their own vacuum enables them to see the bigger picture.
6. Enable Actionable Feedback
One of the biggest frustrations for project teams is abstract or non-specific feedback (“This doesn’t work for me,” or “It’s too long.”), or worse, feedback that contradicts what another review has provided. Both can cause conflict and confusion either through a lack of effective communication or a lack of the right tools.
For example, Word’s “Track Changes” feature works great for providing input and edits on Word documents, but most stakeholders have no such similar tool for reviewing video or audio clips or website mockups. Each reviewer must jot notes separate from the material, which often means reviewers never see what each other has suggested.
Instead, devise a process that requires specific, contextual, and actionable feedback in which all reviewers not only understand the intended purpose for the project, but also see the input of other team members.
Digital proofing solutions can help, along with communicating the value of relevant, actionable feedback. Make sure reviewers also understand that, in order for their input to be included, it must be concrete and actionable—abstract opinions will be taken under advisement, but they shouldn’t expect to see much change without clear direction.
7. Assess and Improve
Despite the best laid plans, very few (if any) are perfect. That’s why it’s critical to conduct a “post-mortem” assessment of every project. By taking the time to discuss what went well and what didn’t, the entire team can work together to identify issues and tweak the process to improve it for the next time around.
Otherwise, if everyone just keeps trudging along, making the same mistakes and tolerating the same obstacles, you’ll continue to stay caught in the same cycle of delay, frustration, and stress. Yes, it takes time, but consider this critical step a well-worthy investment in the efficiency and success of future projects.
It’s been said that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome. But, even in the most well-oiled operations, review and approval processes can have a lot of moving parts, and changing established processes (messy or informal as they may be) can be a challenge.
However, implementing just one or a few of these review and approval hacks can help to get all of those parts moving more smoothly and in sync toward the same goal. Even incremental adjustments can go a long way toward improving project success, on-time delivery, and sanity among team members.
Download our free guide "10 Experts on Marketing Compliance: Mastering the Review and Approval Process" for even more advice on improving your process.
About the Author
Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.Follow on Twitter More Content by Marcus Varner