How to Build an Approval Process (That Increases Your Productivity)

At any given moment, in organizations across the world, you’ll find a person or team waiting on an approval. And depending on the size of the organization, this approval process could take weeks, months, or even years.

Sometimes, approval is needed to get started, but it may also be needed again prior to completion. No matter what stage requires approval, having a standard approval process in place can improve the workflow and dramatically increase productivity.

The last thing any organization needs is for its work to stall. Idle workers and downtime are not good for business!

By streamlining your approval process, you can increase productivity, improve costs, and ensure the quality of your work.

What Is an Approval Process, and When Should You Be Using One?

The approval process should not be considered the final stage of a project or task, but part of the overall organizational workflow.

At its most basic level, an approval process involves obtaining a second opinion that authorizes a task, product, invoice, or outcome. Sometimes, an item only requires one approval, but it may occasionally require several.

How to Create and Optimize an Approval Process

An approval process standardizes an organization’s internal processes, saves time and money, and creates a reliable system that can easily be repeated and replicated.

This system can be used in two different ways:

1. By establishing a strong approval process, you can be sure that all of your deliverables meet your organization’s standards. Think of it as a type of quality control. Everything that’s produced must pass through certain checks before being delivered to the client or customer. Therefore, you can be sure that everything is exactly the way you want it to be.

2. An approval process can be used to help your workers and creative teams understand what is required of them, in order to gain approval and move the process along more quickly. If the team knows they have to hit a certain criterion to gain approval, they won’t waste time going in other directions.

If you notice inefficiencies in your workflow, it’s time to create or streamline an approval process. With a proper process in place, you won’t miss deadlines, your clients’ feedback will be quickly and easily addressed, and your team members won’t be left sitting around and waiting.

How to Create and Optimize an Approval Process

The creation of an approval process is essential to the functioning and efficiency of your organization. To create this process, you must take a close look at your current workflow and record all the steps that a project must pass throughfrom planning to completion.  

Ask yourself these questions:

How Should Work Be Submitted and Changes Requested?

Look at your system and decide the parameters and requirements for submission. Are your team members submitting their work via email or an online portal? Who are they submitting their work to? What’s included in these submissions? By deciding how, where, and who your tasks are submitted to, you can establish your basic requirements from the very beginning.


Get the Free Change Request Form


Submit approval via email

How Many Steps Are There?

It’s important to make sure there are enough steps in place to obtain high-quality results, but you don’t want to bog down the process with unnecessary layers. If it’s not absolutely necessary for five different managers to approve an image before the client sees it, then reduce the number of approvals in your process.

In this step, you can clearly define your process, and make sure you’ve clearly laid out the approval requirements for each of the other steps. What criteria are necessary to move on to the next level of the project, including completion?

Who’s Approving These Steps?

Someone needs to approve every step in your approval process. Again, it’s important to clearly define the approval criteria, so your work can seamlessly move through each step. By defining who’s responsible at every level, you can easily identify and rectify delays when they occur.


Get the FREE Sign-Off Sheet Templates


Who’s Responsible for Edits?

When an edit request comes in, you need to clearly define who’s responsible for making the changes. Are the changes being made by the manager tasked with granting approval, or is the request being sent back to the original creator of the content?

What Happens after Approval or Rejection?

It’s essential to know what happens to an item after it’s approved or rejected. These processes don’t exist on their own, so it’s useful to consider how this particular task fits into the larger project or organization as a whole. Consider setting up a notification system; then when the task is approved, everyone involved will know they can begin on the next task.

By knowing the answers to these questions, you’ll create the foundation for your approval process, so you can build it from there. The specifics of your approval process will depend on your organization and your team members. For example, the process for invoicing will look different than the process for content creation.

Regardless of the organization or industry, creative assets like blogs, web copy, viral videos, and images will need to go through an approval process before they get published, posted online, or shared on social media. To get a better sense of how you can develop your own process, let’s take a closer look at the steps involved in a general approval process.

Steps for Creating a General Approval Process

Let’s have a look at the general approval process. These are the common steps:

1. Proposals are made and approved.

The creative team will submit proposals for the project to the management team, who will choose the best proposal.

2. The manager assigns the task.

The editor or manager assigns specific tasks to appropriate team members (such as the copywriter, videographer, or designer) and sets a deadline.

3. The task is received.

Once the editor assigns the task, the team member will receive a notification, usually via email. He or she will then review the details of the assignment, and seek clarification as necessary.

4. The team member submits an initial draft.

He or she submits an initial draft to his or her manager or client for editorial review.

5. The manager or client replies with comments.

In the vast majority of cases, at least one round of edits will be made. If changes are required, the draft is returned to the team member for completion. If changes are not required, the submission can be approved.

6. The team member submits the final draft.

The writer makes any requested changes and returns the updated submission to the manager or client.

7. The project is collated.

In some cases, the project will require the merging of different elements. For example, a video may require a graphic designer, copywriter, and editor. In this step, these elements will be brought together and presented to the manager or client for approval.

8. The manager or client approves or rejects the submission.

After receiving the final draft, the manager or client can decide whether to approve the submission. If approved, it is ready for publication. If it is rejected, the submission is returned to the appropriate department for further edits. This loop could continue until the manager or client is satisfied with the work.

9. Completion

Once all the edits are made, and the manager or client approves the work, the submission is completed or published.

blankThe above steps just provide a general look at a potential workflow. The number of steps you include—and the requirements for each step—will slightly vary for each task and organization.

However, by asking these questions and using this workflow template as your guide, you can create an approval process that works effectively for your organization.

Types of Approval Processes

Lots of different processes within an organization can be improved by making changes to the workflow and approval process. These processes will manifest themselves differently, depending on the stakeholders involved and the type of content being created.

The Stakeholders Involved

approval process for a general project
Relevant Stakeholders in a Creative Project

The Approval Process for a General Project

A general project’s approval process will apply to the team or organization as a whole. It should cover everything, including:

  • Submitting proposals for approval
  • Designating who will approve those proposals and assign the work.
  • Setting deadlines and collating the project once deadlines are met.

Ideally, this process should be transparent, and all stakeholders should know what is expected of them and the progress of each task.

Client Approval Process (external)

When working on creative projects, it’s often necessary to gain client approval throughout the process. This system will allow clients to view the work and offer feedback, suggestions, corrections, and adjustments (directly with the team members or via the appropriate managers) in a timely fashion, so they won’t hold up the project.

client approval process
Common Client Approval Process

If a client can be integrated into the process and offer direct feedback in the document, this process will run much smoother.

Management Approval Process (internal)

These processes take place within your organization and determine the individuals who have the authority to approve various tasks. During this process, things can often become delayed, especially if the process isn’t completely transparent. By automating repetitive tasks and processes, delays can be avoided, which frees up managers to focus more on tasks that are pressing or detailed.

The Type of Content

Content approval has a lot of moving parts. Not only will it need to pass through various layers of approval within your organization, it will also need to be approved by the client before it’s considered complete.

Marketing Approval Process

By creating a streamlined marketing approval process, you can ensure that there will be no delays. The world moves quickly, and clients can’t afford delays in the rollout of marketing assets. By delivering on time and staying within your budget, you’ll boost your reputation. By us software that allows you to prioritize tasks, set deadlines, and automate deadline reminders, you can keep a marketing project moving forward.

Design Approval Process

When it comes to design, there is often a great deal of back-and-forth between the designers and the client. By speeding up the review process, adjustments can be made, and new options can be submitted for approval without getting lost in someone’s inbox. And by allowing clients to directly comment on a design, rather than describe the changes they want via email, you can remove any confusion or delay, and move the project along in a timely manner.

Commenting and Annotating Designs in Filestage

Document Review and Approval Process

Many organizations simply use email to send documents for review and approval. Unfortunately, this tendency means that many documents get buried in the back-and-forth, so it’s not the most efficient way to perform this type of review.

With the right software process in place, the documents will be centralized in one location, improve your communication, and ensure that nothing gets lost in the process. If you want to use a free tool to review your documents and provide quick feedback, check out Google Docs.

document review and approval process
This article was revised using Google Docs.

Video Approval Process

As with design, video creation can require a lot of input from the client. A good approval process will enable timely client feedback, and allow everyone involved in the project to see and review all versions of the video, which will create transparency and improve the final product. And if clients are able to directly comment on the video and pinpoint the exact second when the change is required, the creative team will be able to easily complete these edits and keep the approval process moving.

Approving Videos in Filestage

Approval Workflow Software

One way you can streamline your approval process is using approval workflow software. This software can help you organize and automate the entire process, reduce costs caused by delays, improve employee satisfaction by establishing clearly defined approval criteria, and ensure tasks get assigned and completed as required.

A large number of task-management tools can help you organize your workflow.



Asana makes it easy to assign tasks, and it can certainly help your keep work moving forward. But it won’t necessarily improve your feedback system or approval process. Team members can easily communicate with each other, but getting direct feedback from a client is still complicated.



Integrify is document approval software that includes form design, process automation, and self-service portals. Designed for ease of use, this tool allows you to build workflow automation and increase productivity.


approvaldonkey alternative

ApprovalDonkey makes it easy to manage your business’ financials and approvals. From invoices and work orders to expense claims and travel requests, ApprovalDonkey has you covered.


tallyfy alternative

Tallyfy makes it easy to manage recurring workflows, prioritize tasks, and track processes and assignments through tags and email notifications.


workfront alternative

Workfront allows you to seamlessly consolidate everything you need into one single place. By centralizing your projects on one platform, you can improve your collaborations and streamline your planning processes.



xFlower offers cloud, platform, or enterprise solutions that allow you to optimize your workflow and create, customize, and automate processes that will improve your productivity and communication.  


Filestage has the strength of each one of these proofing tools, all in one place. With little more than the click of a button, our tool allows quick and easy feedback among team members, and between the team and client. Other tools require clients to create and login to an account, in order to access their documents and files. But Filestage doesn’t require clients to register. And best of all, Filestage doesn’t charge you to add clients or reviewers, and the number of reviewers you can add is unlimitedunlike our competition!

Filestage has an integrated document system that enables you to keep a record of all versions of a project and all the comments made on it. All reviewers or clients will get notifications of newer versions of files. When they access the file through an established review link, they’ll see a notification at the top of the page, which alerts them to the fact that there’s a newer version of the file available for review. And to keep things from becoming too confusing, Filestage keeps the comments made on older versions separate from the comments made on the new file. All of these steps will make it easy and straightforward to manage your files on a single platform, and help you keep the project on track and prevent potential delays.

By giving team members and clients the ability to comment on a project in real time, you can create a more efficient system, and keep your work headed in the right direction at all times.

If you’re interested in a comprehensive overview of revision tools, check out our list of review and approval software.

How to Build a Content Approval Process Using Filestage

Filestage has designed a clear and intuitive user interface that makes reviewing and approving files an absolute breeze.

Getting Started

The Filestage dashboard is clean and easy to navigate.

filestage screenshot

On the left, you’ll see a list of your ongoing projects. To begin a new project, all you have to do is click on the green Create Project button. You can even add folders for each of your clients, so you can easily find all work pertaining to them as needed.

Project files can be added to the dashboard in two ways: You can drag them onto the dashboard (one at a time or in bulk), or you can use the green Upload button below the Review box.

filestage upload files

Filestage currently supports videos, images, PDFs, and audio files.

Once you’ve set up the project, you can start adding team members. To invite a team member, simply click the Team button in the top right corner.


Once you’ve clicked that button, all you have to do is type the person’s email address and designate him or her as an Admin” or Member. Then you’re good to go.

Now that your files are uploaded, and your team is established, you’re ready to invite your potential or reviewers to the process.


Or you can pick the review link, and share it with your reviewers:

filestage share review link

For an extra layer of security, you’ll be able to control permissions for the file and add a password. If you don’t want your client to be able to keep a copy of the work at this point, you can disable downloads. At this stage, you can also enable email notifications, so your client can receive email updates or disable comments as desired.

If you’re using other methods to communicate with your client, you can paste the review link into an email, or add it to Asana, Slack, Trello, Basecamp, or whichever task management software is being used.

What the Reviewer Sees

Once you’ve sent the invitation to review the file via email or review link, they ’ll be able to access the file.

The user interface is broken down into three sections:

1. The Quick Access Bar

There’s a bar on the right that will allow reviewers to switch between the project files they have permission to access. This feature will only appear if the reviewer has access to multiple files.

2. File Viewer

The file will be displayed on the right side of the page. To leave a comment, all the reviewer has to do is click anywhere on the file. It really is that easy.

3. Comments Bar

A comment feed is on the left of the screen. Any time a comment is left in the file, it will appear in the comments bar.

All reviewers need to do is click on the file, leave a comment, and save it.

No matter what type of file the client is viewing, the interface will remain consistent. Here’s a look at the view for PDF (1), Image (2), Audio (3), and Video (4) files:

filestage reviewer dashboard

With Filestage, reviewers are able to freely communicate and collaborate with the team working on their project. They have the ability to draw, highlight, add shapes, and even upload files (such as logos and color swatches) to make sure their feedback is fully understood. If the reviewer wants to target a specific team member in a comment, they can @mention them, which will tag them in the comment. All of these features speed up the review process, and ensure that both sides are always on the same page.

Once the reviewer is done leaving feedback, they have two options: They can click the Finish Review button at the bottom of the comments bar, or click Approve File (which means no more changes are required, and the file is complete). Once they’ve clicked either option, the entire team will receive an email update.

Internal Reviews

This process is similar to reviews within your own organization. Simply click anywhere in the file, and leave feedback.

Files are easy to sort and prioritize, based on your established workflow. They can be sorted according to file name, file date, or review status.

The status of the project is easy to determine at a glance, since it’s indicated by dots next to each file:

  • An orange dot means the reviewers have requested some edits or changes in the file.
  • A green dot means no reviews are needed, and the client is happy. So the file has been approved.
  • A grey dot means the reviewer hasn’t clicked the Finish Review button.

Responding to Feedback

Filestage makes it easy to respond to feedback from the client or reviewer. Each comment is treated as a task. Once you access the file, you can either handle the task yourself, or reply to the comment by tagging another team member, letting them know they are to complete the edit. If you tag a team member, they’ll receive an email letting them know this task is waiting. Once the task is completed, it can be marked as complete. From there, the project can be sent back to the reviewer for another round of edits or final approval.


It’s essential for organizations to have a proper approval system in place. If you don’t have one, budgets and manpower can be wasted while you’re waiting for feedback and edits to be completed. No one wants unhappy team members and clients.

Implementing an approval process with software like Filestage takes the pain and frustration out of online collaborations. It will help you facilitate communication and move a project along until all parties are satisfied.

Join Over 5,000 PM and Marketing Enthusiasts

Receive actionable creative project management advice straight to your inbox on a bi-weekly basis.