Project Plan Approval Process – 5 Ways to an Efficient & Trackable Approval Management

project plan approval process

You have spent months preparing the project plan for this prestigious project that your team plans to undertake. The wait for project plan approval can be unnerving, especially when you do not have visibility into the opinion of management, clients, and other stakeholders. A streamlined project plan approval process gets your projects signed off faster and hassle-free. Approval for a project is usually provided by the team manager and top management. Read on to understand the project approval process, the best practices in project approval, and ways to streamline the project approval workflow. 

What is a Project Plan Approval Process?

A project plan approval process is during which decision-makers ensure that projects, invoices, budgets, and other processes that impact the organization’s financial status and stability are on par with the quality standards and requirements established by the organization. Approval for a project should be given only after a thorough review of the project plan. Project approval done in haste leads to disastrous outcomes that directly impact the business’s bottom line. 

A sound project plan approval strategy must apply consistent, value-based approval criteria and automated routing for project requests that impact an organization financially and strategically. The project management plan approval process is the last stage in project management and consists of the following steps – 

  • Deliverables reaching the final stage
  • Management, stakeholders, and/or clients performing a final review of the creative collaterals
  • Deliverables are either approved or reintroduced into the production loop

A set of structured steps that a project must go through before it can begin are part of the project approval workflow. The project plan is essentially a roadmap that ensures that the right projects are undertaken at the right time with the right resources. A well-defined project plan approval process mitigates the risks, enables better decision-making, and increases accountability.

5 Steps in the Project Plan Approval Process

The project plan approval process involves obtaining approval from various stakeholders, hence, managing it can be tricky without a streamlined workflow. The project approval workflow can be broken down into 5 stages listed below – 

1. Project Initiation – This stage of the project is where the project’s scope, objectives, and requirements are defined. During the initiation stage, potential stakeholders and their needs and expectations are also assessed. 

2. Planning – Once the scope and objectives are clearly defined, the next stage is to develop a detailed project plan. The project plan must include timelines, budgets, and resource requirements of the project. This is also the step where risk management proposals are created and potential roadblocks are identified. 

3. Execution – Once the above steps are completed, implementation of the project plan can begin. 

4. Monitoring and control – Post implementation, it is important to ensure that the progress of the project is tracked. All the issues that arise while executing the project need to be handled during the monitoring and control phase. 

5. Closure – At the end of the project, you move on to reviewing the project results and outcomes. All the learnings during project execution need to be documented properly for future reference. 

It is important to remember that at each of these stages, it is important to obtain the necessary approvals before progressing to the next stage. For speedy and effective approvals, it is important to identify the stakeholders for approvals. The stakeholders must be provided with accurate and updated information so that they can review and approve the project plan quickly. 

Why Should You Streamline the Project Approval Process?

Why should you streamline the project approval process? Doing away with process redundancies is the main reason why an organization would go for streamlining key business processes. Nothing slows a project down like the approval process, right? 

Picture this – You have created a great project plan and your team is gearing up full steam for working on the project. The next thing you know is a roadblock – pending approval from stakeholders! One stakeholder keeps resending the project plan with several revisions, while the other stakeholder does not respond to any email. Your project deadlines are looming big on you! Been there?

Here are other reasons/scenarios where your project plan approval may reach a roadblock – 

  • Stakeholders providing conflicting feedback 
  • Too many reviewers with an unclear chain of approval
  • Reviewers are not clear about the original project goals 
  • Stakeholders miss approval deadlines
  • The project plan gets entangled in a never-ending cycle of revisions

You probably would have encountered some or all of these issues that hold up the project execution. You can take steps to keep your project plan approvals in check. The good news is that you don’t have to sit back and watch your project getting shelved, you can streamline the project approval process with the right workflow automation tool like Cflow. Streamlining the project plan approval process is a great way to accelerate the project execution. Here is how you can streamline the approval process.

Establish a clear, streamlined process for feedback – Even before you start to write your project plan, you need to discuss, review, and approvals with respective stakeholders, and let their inputs shape the working of the process. Gathering this data helps you engage stakeholders in a productive conversation about the feedback process before a deliverable lands up with them for review. 

Set the right parameters for review of the project plan – Having a wide scope for the feedback process leads to more work, which directly affects the project budget and timeline. 

You must specify how many days and rounds of revisions the review cycle should include. Setting clear parameters around approval ensures that everyone is on the same page. 

Set clear roles and responsibilities for each deliverable – Even before the project starts you need to establish clear roles and responsibilities for reviewers. Using the Gantt chart helps the team document roles and responsibilities. The availability of the reviewer and back up on the front end also need to be specified. Talking about availability with stakeholders on the front end enables you to build your project schedule around their out-of-office time. It is also good to ask stakeholders to designate a backup reviewer, so you won’t be left in the lurch when plans change. 

Determine how feedback will be delivered – You need to work with stakeholders to figure out how feedback will be collected and accepted. A single channel must be set for feedback to minimize confusion and prevent unnecessary bog-downs bought on by free-for-all debates. Consolidate all edits and comments through a single stakeholder. Designating one stakeholder for feedback and sharing it in a format that is easy to understand and actionable. Using a collaborative document tool enables easy access and clear guidelines. 

Build review and approvals into the project plan – It is time to formalize your process by designating tasks, dates, and assignments around it. Spelling out tasks and milestones makes it easy to present the plan to the stakeholders. Creating a project plan is only the beginning, highlighting key approval milestones, and working with stakeholders to understand project details are needed to build a solid review and approval plan. 

Manage approval process and expectations proactively – Once the project commences, you will have to closely monitor how things are progressing and keep stakeholders in the loop all through the process. Continuous iteration and reiteration of what is to come in the project are necessary to ensure that progress is aligned with the process goals and objectives. Documents like project plans and weekly status reports should be made an integral part of the project approval workflow. 

Benefits of a Streamlined Project Plan Approval Process

Having a well-thought-through project approval process brings several benefits to the organization. Some of the benefits include – 

1- Risk management – It helps reduce risks by ensuring that projects are aligned with business objectives and resources that are allocated for the project. In industries like healthcare or finance, where compliance is very important, having a clear project approval process ensures that all the tasks are accomplished as per business policies and standards. 

2- Better decision-making – A well-laid-out project plan provides a structured framework for evaluating projects, which in turn enables better decision-making. This standard framework makes sure that projects are assessed objectively based on pre-defined criteria. Decisions on which project to pursue and which to reject can be taken, based on the details in the project plan. 

3- Enhanced Accountability – The project approval process is streamlined when the roles and responsibilities and metrics for success are clearly defined. A clear definition ensures that everyone in the project understands their role and the project’s objectives. A well-defined project approval process makes it easy for the project to be delivered on time, within the budget, and as per the required quality standards. 

4- Improved collaboration – Active involvement of all the stakeholders is necessary from the beginning of the project. Ensuring that everyone in the project is involved and is aware of the status and progress, facilitates transparency and improves trust. 

Best Practices in Project Approval Process

It is not enough if we simply create a project approval workflow, we need to ensure that the workflow is streamlined and delivers optimal results. We have put together 5 best practices in the project approval process so that expected outcomes are delivered each time. 

Clear definition of project scope and objectives – The most important condition for the project plan to get approved is that it has a clear definition of what the project intends to accomplish. A project plan that clearly defines the intent and scope of the project helps stakeholders easily understand what the project is for. While defining the objectives, it is important to identify and involve all the stakeholders that are impacted by the project. Stakeholders are usually the team members, customers, partners, and regulators. Involving all these stakeholders ensures that the project aligns with their needs and requirements. 

Develop a detailed plan – The more detailed the project plan is, the better the chances that it will get approved. The project plan must outline all the tasks, timelines, and dependencies, for getting the plan approval. The scope of the plan must be comprehensive to include all aspects, right from initial scoping to delivery. 

Establish a clear approval process – Establishing a clear and transparent approval hierarchy is very important to ensure that there are no bottlenecks in the workflow. Clarity of who is responsible for what is essential to avoid any confusion or overlooks during approval. You must establish – 

  • What documentation is needed
  • Who has the authority to approve the project at each stage
  • How will feedback be incorporated into the workflow

Establish a clear line of communication – Effective communication is essential for any process to operate without any bottlenecks. Especially in approval-based processes, a clear communication line ensures that approvals do not fall through the cracks. Make sure that communication throughout the project approval process is established at the beginning itself. Stakeholders must be updated on the progress of every stage of the process. Progress, milestones, and any changes to the project plan or scope must be documented and communicated to the stakeholders.

Track the progress – In some projects, approvals are needed at every stage of the workflow, while for others, sign-off/approval might be required only at the beginning and end stages of the project. Nevertheless, it is important to monitor the progress of the process at all times so that we can ensure that the project is on track and aligned with objectives. In addition to tracking the progress of the process, the stakeholders must be provided with relevant reports on the progress. Regular monitoring and reporting ensure that any issues or digressing can be promptly identified and resolved.

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Automating the Project Plan Approval

We have talked in depth about the need for streamlining the project approval workflow, but how do we accomplish that? The best practices in the project plan approval process can be implemented by automating specific steps in the process. What does process automation do to the approval process? For starters, it eliminates redundant steps and automates repetitive, low-value tasks that eat up productive project hours. Redundancies in any process flow cause bottlenecks and delays. To get rid of such issues, it is important to automate tasks that are data-intensive and tedious. 

How do you go about automating the project approval process? Here are a few tips that will ease out project approval process automation. 

Specify project approval requirements – Identify the most frequented project types that your team works on that require approval from higher-ups. When you have this figured out, it becomes easy to look for the right automation solution that takes care of the requirements of your project. 

Choose a powerful project approval tool – A solid project approval plan must be supported by the right approval automation tool. A capable project approval tool can drive up to 50% time savings in project approvals. The tool must be easy to use and understand, must provide real-time updates on request statuses, integrate the tool with existing business apps must be simple and seamless. Cflow is a no-code BPM tool that fits the bill perfectly for a feature-rich workflow automation tool with advanced automation features.

Ensure that stakeholders are kept in the loop – The approval automation tool must enable seamless collaboration between stakeholders to ensure that all of them are on the same page. 

Share assets for review and approval – Sharing assets and documents for review and approval is greatly simplified when you use automation software. This is a must-have feature that ensures that all the relevant assets are shared with the respective stakeholder for review and approval. Sharing of thoughts, comments, and feedback is a must during the review process. 

Integrate the feedback and resolve comments – The comments/feedback received from the reviewer must be implemented and marked as “resolved”. Once all the comments are resolved, the request can be resubmitted to the reviewer for final approval. 

Top 5 Project Approval Tools

To make it easy for you to choose the right approval automation software, we have curated a list of the top 5 tools for 2023. 

  • Cflow No code workflow automation tool for all types of approval workflows
  • Monday – Structured project management and workflow automation software
  • Nintex – Custom project workflow creation software for teams of any size
  • Wrike – Low code automation for the task and project-level assignments
  • MarkUp.io – Best tool for workflows that include proofing, review, and/or approval

The more efficient your project plan approval process, the lesser time spent on mundane activities. Cflow brings powerful automation features to the project approval workflow, so you end up spending more time on productive project work rather than boring reviews and validations. Sign up for the free trial to see Cflow in action.

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