An approval workflow is more than a sequence of tasks. It’s a means of providing structure to the approval process, ensuring that work receives the resources and attention required to keep things in motion.
With an approval workflow, there shouldn’t be any questions about who is responsible for giving approval, when to expect a decision and what the next steps are in the process. It’s all about creating order in a sequence of actions that could easily become disorderly without a framework.
Approval process workflows also help to standardize processes, establish organizational rules or guidelines and set expectations. This, in turn, minimizes mistakes, prevents delays and improves efficiency, engagement, productivity and even the quality of work companywide.
And because these workflows increase transparency, they also offer a unique opportunity to continually evaluate processes and internal structures until operations run like a well-oiled machine.
Building an effective project management approval process
Approval workflows are similar in design to standard workflows; they contain many of the same components and sequences of tasks. Though the specific process itself will differ from one organization to the next, the following are often key to proper workflow organization and management:
- Submissions: Whether it’s completed through a request form, application or invoice, the approval process workflow begins with a submission from one party to another. Although not a necessity, consider issuing a “receipt” upon submission to record the request and provide confirmation for the submitter.
- Queues/portals: At this step in the approval workflow process, submissions are ready for review. Requests move into a queue or portal to await authorization or comments on any next steps.
- Products: Products are the submissions sitting in the queue or portal. In the next step in the project management approval process, these submissions give direct managers a place to weigh resource availability prior to moving forward.
- Approvers: Probably the most critical component of the approval workflow is the individual — or individuals — responsible for approving the task. Depending on the workflow, this might entail a sequential chain of approval (e.g., manager, director and so forth) or simply one gatekeeper to sign off on requests. Determine who will participate in the chain of approval or act as the gatekeeper for a given workflow.
- Permissions: More often than not, you’ll use technology to expedite the project management approval process. These tech tools assign permissions for individuals who can view, edit and approve (or reject) requests. Nail down which positions will have access to what level of information or responsibility in the process.
- Timelines: No approval process workflow is complete without a series of deadlines. Otherwise, you’ll run into unnecessary delays that inevitability reduce productivity and satisfaction among employees.
- Notifications: If you’re using a software platform for the project management approval process, set the system to issue automatic notifications about where the request is within the project management approval workflow. This is especially important when requests must go through a series of approvals before they’re completed.
- Logs: Transparency is critically important for organizations today, so it’s always wise to record all activities involving a request. Track and document all approvals, edits, recommendations and so on (as well as who made each one) within the project management approval process.
Although approval workflows are nothing new, not all organizations understand how to build an approval workflow that can enhance a team’s efficiency and productivity — nor do they always believe them necessary for business operations. If it’s not broken, why fix it? But once you take the time to establish a strong approval process workflow, you can provide a competitive advantage and lead to a stronger organization as a whole.
Chad Reid is the vice president of marketing and communications at JotForm; he’s a frequent contributor to various tech and business publications — and an absolute wizard with a Vitamix.
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