Have you ever spent hours working on a project, maybe even working with several vendors, and when you bring the final draft to your boss or client for approval, they want it tweaked so much so that you’re practically back at square one? “Ahhhhhh!”  Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about approval processes, so here are our six secrets to getting fast, easy approvals.

1) Have only one, high-up point of contact
In recent years, it’s become popular for companies to try and achieve group consensus, in which a committee or handful of people provide feedback and come to agreement about something.  The same philosophy has emerged in non-profit organizations as well, in which the staff bring in Board members and other volunteers to provide input on an issue or project. This is fine as long as there’s one person who culls the feedback and makes the final decision.  Having a lot of hands (opinions and ideas) in the pie often makes for a mushy mess, especially if the group is sharing responsibility for the end result.  If that’s the case, accountability is diffused.  If one person has to make the final decision, you can bet they’ll pay careful attention to their decision because they’re singularly responsible for it.  When we have to produce something for a client, we insist on having only one approval contact who is high up in the company.  What goes on in the background in their company is their business but there must be one person who is the end-all-be-all in the chain of command, and that’s the person with whom we work.  If you choose to work with a contact too low on the totem pole, their decisions can be easily overturned by the higher ups and then all your work is for naught.  If you choose to work with a group, you may never be able to make a nice dessert out of that mashed up pie.

2) Write down your goal
Before you start working on anything, decide on a goal and write it down.  (As an aside, this is a great time to bring in the cavalry, or solicit group input.  Deciding on a desired outcome is a productive way to involve a group and having them participate in a “big picture” brainstorm is much easier to manage than having them work on the details of a project.)  Once you’ve developed the goal, make sure that your approval person understands it and is in agreement with it.  Only then should you proceed.  And, if your approval person tries to maneuver the project in a different direction midstream, remind them of the goal that was written down and you both agreed on at the start.

3) Get approvals along the way
Break up projects into phases and get approval on each phase before moving on to the next. For example, if you were to develop a brochure, first get approval on the estimate for the production cost. Then, write the copy and have it approved.  Thereafter, move on to the design and layout phase, and have that approved.  And so on. You can see how obtaining approvals along the way prevents the project from moving backwards.  Just imagine if you worked through the entire process without having it approved in phases and your boss wanted to add 200 more words to a small brochure.  You would waste a lot of time and money changing the brochure size and layout.

4) Create a project budget and timeline from the start
Because you will carry out your project in phases and will need to get several approvals, create a project timeline and share it with your approval contact before you start your project.  With the budget, estimate the cost of each phase, total it up, and get approval on that number before you start.  This will eliminate surprises and ensure that your point-of-contact is aware of what and when approvals will be needed and how much the project will cost.

5) Set a deadline
So, you’re in the midst of the project and now it’s time to get an approval.  Give your approval person a deadline to respond.  Providing a date and time (5 p.m.on Friday, 5/30) eliminates questions about when you need approval.  When setting the deadline, consider a reasonable timeframe for your approval contact to carefully review the material.  If you’re under a tight deadline with a printer, newspaper, or other vendor, let your approval person know that and kindly tell them in writing that if you don’t hear from them by the deadline, you will assume that the project is approved to proceed.

6) Put everything in writing
Keep written records of all agreed upon items including goals, timelines, budgets, and especially all approvals. Whether it’s having your approval person sign off on the printer’s mock-up or send an email consent, keep this correspondence in an organized file, just in case of snafus.  Remember to include dates on all records.

Following these six tips will steer you clear of frustrating approval processes and help you finish your projects fast and easy with your relationships intact.

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