Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How to get your work approved without making a trip to Arkham

Photo by Leeni!

The approval process ages me. With each passing day and each new project, I feel less like I'm project managing, and more like I'm pushing an elephant through a Silly Straw. Hardly productive and bad for my back.

But what breaks approval processes in the first place? What warps the simple cycle of 'idea - execution - review - edit - approval' into an M.C. Escher-like bending of the space-time continuum? Causes I've observed include:

* An inability to take organizational processes to scale
* No clear decision-maker
* Micro-managing/hand-holding your implementers
* Need for consensus
* Not setting (or disregarding) project goals

And so on. If you're like me and operate at the do-er level, you won't have the oversight or pull to fix deep-seated organizational quirks, so accept that right now and move on. (Which will be extra hard if you are a control freak -- also like me.)

But there are some ways you can make an impact at your pay grade to keep the process moving AND keep your hair attached to your head.

1. Strengthen the first link in the chain. Before worrying about improving the entire approval chain, start with the first step -- you and your manager. Find out how he/she prefers to approve your work. A sit-down edit? Quick sign-off? Factor that information into your project planning and aim to nail that first step. Having your manager's total buy-in will prove helpful later if you need extra heft to keep the work moving up the org chart.

2. Batch your work. If you don't have a micro-manager at the helm, batching your work can save time and confusion on the front end. Rather than get one small piece approved at a time, collect all the moving parts and present together. This not only saves you the effort of pushing through individual pieces, but it creates more context for the approver. And if your approvers can see the big picture, you can skip all the confusion and re-explanation and go right to the edits/sign-off.

3. Budget in time for delays and changes. Work happens. People get held up, distracted, called on a business trip, etc. Or, they're just super-slow. As you learn the ropes in your organization, take note of people's working and approval styles and build that time into your approval process. This decreases your chances that one person will derail the whole project train. Bonus: If by some act of God everyone approves early, you can submit the final product early too!

4. Worry about the only thing you have control over: you. Also known as, accept the inevitable. For me, this is the hardest technique. Priorities will shift. Projects will get delayed. Higher-ups will demand work by a certain date, and then let it collect dust on their desk. You just have to let it go and do your work the best you can. Because you won't do anyone any good if they have to pry the project plan from your cold hands after you die from stress.

That's what I'm learning in my little corner of cubicle nation. My fellow do-ers: What techniques have you discovered for keeping projects moving and your sanity intact?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:04 PM

    In my years on the job, I've realized that people don't really want to make decisions. They just want to believe that you've done the best and most correct work and they just want to initial/approve it. So I always present my work with an air of authority and the caveat that I've exhausted all avenues and have come up with what I believe to be the best solution. (Note: I really do this but they don't know this unless you TELL them!)I will sometimes offer the inferior alternative in order to make my product that much more attractive. In short, show that you feel great about what you're handing over and that will give the reviewer more confidence as well (hopefully).

    Love, Mom

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