3 Quick Fixes for Your Approval Workflow

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For many companies, the review and approval process is the biggest bottleneck in completing projects. Lengthy reviews often involve several teams from creative to legal and may even require approvals from external stakeholders.

To a certain extent, the benefits of having multiple people take the time to review a project outweigh the negatives. Reviews should be an opportunity to slow down and carefully inspect every detail of a project so you can catch errors, maintain brand consistency, and ensure legal compliance. But more often than not, lengthy review processes are frustrating and can damage the project and timeline. For this reason, it’s important to regularly audit your review process to see what can be improved.

Here are three tips for improving your approval process:

1. Identify and explore the breakdowns

The breakdowns in your approval workflow shouldn’t be difficult to find. Just think about the point (or points) at which work piles up on one side and people are left waiting on the other side. It might be an individual, a process, or a team. Keep in mind that being labeled as a “bottleneck” doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Many reviewers have other responsibilities and limited time, too. Explain to those individuals that your purpose is not to blame, but to support. If they understand that you are trying to help them, not chastise them, they will be much more willing to participate.

During this process you may find multiple points of breakdown. Although the goal is to eliminate as many breakdowns as possible, it’s important to choose only one breakdown at a time to focus and explore completely. Prioritize the bottlenecks by the cost in time or money that they add to the project. Once you have a single break point selected, you can begin to explore all aspects of that bottleneck. Start with the basics: who, what, where, when, why.

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WHO
What teams or individuals are responsible at this point in the review process?
Can any of them be eliminated?
Are any approvals duplicated?
Has the review process and the individual’s role been adequately explained?
Do they have an easy way to give feedback?

WHAT
Do projects get kicked back because reviewers don’t have information about brand guidelines?
Are all reviewers working from the same (most current) version of the asset?
Are they able to view/listen to/watch/interact with all aspects of the asset and comment accordingly?
Are internal reviewers or external reviewers given all the information about the project that they need to be able to complete their task?
Are they aware of the timeline?

WHERE
Is there a central location where all project assets and reviewers can access the piece and deliver their feedback?

WHEN
Is the review happening too soon before the concept has been vetted?
Is it happening too late when the concept has been cemented and can’t be easily adjusted?
Do you need to get a client or legal approval before the remaining reviewers give their feedback?

Once you’ve thoroughly explored what is actually happening in your review process, you can move on to the next step.

2. Optimize your current process

Because making sweeping changes to your review process can be costly and take time to teach and adopt, the easiest and least expensive method for fixing your review process is improving what you already have.

One highly effective way to reduce revisions is to implement a quick check by a peer before the final reviews. Doing this can help to catch errors and identify obvious issues with brand guidelines, legal compliance, and stakeholder expectations before the bottleneck is even approached. Ensuring only the highest quality pieces make it to the review process to begin with will make a big difference in the length of the overall workflow.

Make sure that the current process is as defined and clear as possible. If it makes sense to consolidate reviews to a specific person on the team or distribute the work between team members, define that process and the requirements of their work so that there is no room for misunderstandings. This way, your team will feel like they have transparency and open communication, and it also will allow management to hold team members accountable. If necessary, set aside time in the day of the reviewer that will be earmarked just for finishing reviews. This will help to ensure that the workflow doesn’t stagnate.

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3. Make changes as necessary

Optimizing your current process may well reduce the breakdowns in your review and approval process, but it can only take you so far. If you find that your review process is still a significant bottleneck, it may be time to evaluate whether your current process is the best solution for your team.

Once you’ve reached that point, spend some time to lay out the exact breakdowns in your current system. It may be helpful to put this information into a spreadsheet and label column one as issues in your current system. Be as specific as possible and think in terms of time lost, information that doesn’t flow, and money spent in talent and resources.

In the second column, resolve all of those issues with your ideal workflow. You can then use the third column to analyze different solutions and make sure that they solve the problems that your team is actually running into. Once you’ve identified a new solution, you can use the spreadsheet to get buy-in from your team in using the new tool or process.

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Refining your review process may be an ongoing task. As your projects change and your team grows, you may find new breakdowns popping up as soon as the old issues get resolved. Repeating these steps as frequently as necessary will help to find and fix each new bottleneck that comes up, which will improve the overall productivity and agility of your workflows.

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