Few things bring a project to a grinding, if temporary, halt quite as fast as a badly-managed approval process. Streamlining the approval process can keep a project flowing smoothly from one stage to the next. To do this, it is necessary to put systems in place that allow approvers to make fast, contextually informed decisions.
1. Consult the right people
Decision authority is the first thing to streamline. Too many organisations have too many people or functions involved in the decision-making process.
This gives veto power, or the power to delay the project with unnecessary queries, to the wrong people. Some people or departments are consulted for no reason, other than that is the way things have always been done. In this way some projects are just ‘delayed to death’. Ensure that decision authority is only given to the decision-makers whose input is really necessary.
2. Ask the right questions
The successful project manager knows how and when to communicate by asking the right questions at the right time. Project processes are rarely standalone events but crisscross each other, with many interdependencies throughout the life of a project.
When it comes to capital expenditure decisions, there are three vital questions to answer:
- Is this proposal complete, and does it exceed the minimum hurdle rate?
- Do we have the funds to invest in this project?
- How attractive is this project compared to others, at this time?
Any queries, objections, or decision-making delays that are based on anything other than these questions are irrelevant and should not be holding up the approval process.
3. Implement a unified approach
Many organisations make approval decisions in silos. There is no unified system to compare one project against another. This hinders the process, as approvers try to identify the most attractive project by navigating multiple reports, spreadsheets, and databases to ascertain exactly what the updated forecasts, budgets, and return on investment is for each project are.
To complicate the process further, the criteria for evaluation may be either qualitative or quantitative, depending on the project goals. This can make it challenging to answer the question as to which project is most worthy, inevitably delaying the approval process. It is vital, therefore, to have a system to compare disparate projects objectively and ensure that the most appropriate project is quickly approved. The organisations strategic goals are central to providing the contextual lens through which projects are viewed.
One way to streamline the approval process is to streamline the comparison process. Organisations can do this by implementing a unified capital-portfolio-management system, that tracks each project across the investment life cycle, allowing easy comparison at every stage for which approval is required.
4. Forecast frequently
The approval process is also hindered by out-of-date forecasts. Projects grow and change as they move through the project life cycle, making it important to update forecasts at every stage. To keep approvals streamlined, it is necessary to:
- Make real-time data automatically available to the capital-management system
- Allow project managers to easily and frequently update this data
- Compile forecasts in a systematic and standardised way
- Make forecasts easily accessible to everyone involved, to enable effective collaboration
- Ensure that management act promptly based on these frequent, real-time forecasts
5. Understand what happens next
Have a clear process for what happens next with a project whether it is approved or rejected. A project may not be sufficiently well developed to be approved. Planning for next steps will mean work, whether on a refined version of the project, a change of scope or moving ahead on the work schedule can take place without delay. It means that projects can be rejected with a clear framework of what needs to be done to meet the criteria for success leading to more contextually informed decisions and confident project approvals.