5 Obstacles to the Approval Process and Ways to Overcome Them

Almost every person working in a creative department will tell you the same thing – the review and approval process is agonizing. For one thing, the feedback from clients is often hilariously vague and nonsensical:

“I really like the color but can you change it?”

“I like it, but can the snow look a little warmer?”

“I’m just not sure that a globe and passport represent travel.”

“I have printed it out, but the animated GIF is not moving.”

Yep. These are actual client comments from a series of posters that two Irish graphic designers decided to create out of their “favorite worst feedback.” If you work in a creative field, you’ve probably seen comments like these at some point  – and you’ve mostly likely learned the best ways to respond with patience and tact.

But while ridiculous feedback like this is certainly a thorn in your side, it’s not the hardest part of the reviews and approval process – no, the main issue is momentum.

Imagine you and your team have spent a month on a project – writing, illustrating, formatting, and designing every detail. You’ve finished everything, and now all you need before submitting is for two stakeholders to review what you’ve come up with. It would only take them 10 minutes to do so – and yet all you hear is crickets.

If this scenario is familiar to you, there is a solution. First, you need to understand the five main challenges that lead to the momentum problem, and then you can start implementing five of the best practices to keep your projects moving, minimize delays, and reduce the stress that comes with that.

Five Big Challenges

1. Outdated review processes.

Some creative teams report that, even in 2017, they still print projects out and put the folder on someone’s desk. This not only wastes paper, but time as well. Email is the most common way for routing approvals (38% of creative teams use it, according to one Workfront study), and while it’s not quite as antiquated as paper requests, it’s not the most efficient option, either. New emails tend to pile up quickly, especially for higher-up executives, and this makes it easy to miss your approval request.

2. Approvers are busy.

The person tasked with reviewing your project has a lot on their plate – and your project is most definitely not the biggest thing. They will have meetings, staff problems, budget issues, travel, and many other tasks that take priority, at least in their eyes.

3. Scattered personnel.

If you’re still using paper and you dropped off your request at someone’s desk, you have to hope they are not out of town. And if they are and you email your request, can they view it on their cell phone? Or maybe you have members of your team working in different offices, and maybe you work from home, or maybe you use freelancers – all of these situations can exacerbate the issue and make it difficult to track down key personnel.

4. More than one approver.

It’s hard to get feedback from multiple approvers, even if everyone works in one place. And if you’re relying on email, they are probably unaware of what others are saying, so feedback is often conflicting. How do you choose which comments to heed?

5. Rich media.

These days, it’s harder to share content because it’s no longer billboards or mail flyers – it’s videos, animations, interactive HTML, etc. – which complicates the reviewing process significantly if you are relying only on email, for example.

Five Best Practices

1. Agree on a deadline.

Here’s the power of an agreed-upon deadline: you give the approver enough time to look over your project (a number of days that you both agree on). If you don’t hear back within that timeframe, you’re allowed to go forward without their feedback. Pretty cool, huh?

2. Limit the number of approvers.

Determine who really needs to be involved. Ask these four questions about potential approvers:

  1. Are they qualified?
  2. Are they available?
  3. Do they give solid feedback quickly?
  4. Is their feedback typically helpful?

3. Avoid micromanaging.

This one is mainly directed at executives or other senior positions who question the decisions of the expert designers they hired. You hired them to handle this minutia so that you wouldn’t have to, and so that you would have time to focus on other important things. Remember that your feedback doesn’t always have to include something to change – there’s nothing wrong with saying, “This is exactly what we’re looking for. Thanks.” Because you know what? Being able to say that frequently just means you’re doing a great job as a leader by hiring the right people and conveying your vision effectively.

4. Find a substitute approver.

Ask your busiest approvers to determine a backup whom they trust to review your projects if they don’t have time to do it. If you’re one of those busy approvers, be willing to appoint someone as a replacement – don’t be a hindrance to efficiency.

5. Use digital proofing.

With digital proofing and other work management solutions, all approvers comment in a shared space, which decreases conflicting feedback. It’s also easy to see who hasn’t left feedback yet, and it provides an audit trail. This makes commenting on rich media files no different than commenting on images, and has mobile optimization so busy executives can do the work anywhere.

These five tips won’t always prevent bad feedback – but you will increase efficiency in the reviewing process, which lets you get more work done.


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