How to manage the document review and approval process

The document review and approval process can make or break your project. To get the best possible results, every stakeholder must be able to efficiently give their feedback. As a marketing project manager, it’s up to you to find the best method.

Stakeholder feedback is the cornerstone of collaborative projects. Without it, your business runs the risk of publishing documents with mistakes, which are off-brand, do not fulfil the requirements, or contain inaccurate or outdated information. By having key stakeholders provide their input, the whole team can work together to shape a vastly more successful piece of work.

Here’s a look at how to optimize your document review and approval process.

What is a document review process?

The document review process is a formalized, centralized, and consistent process. It allows team members, clients, or external partners to review and give feedback on a drafted piece of work.

During this stage, all invited stakeholders review the first drafts of documents, identify all areas where changes are needed, and leave and discuss feedback so the editor knows exactly what to do. This reviewing process can be repeated until there are no more changes required. Then, the piece can be approved, and officially classified as complete. 

Depending on the type of document, specific team members or colleagues from other departments will be involved in the process. Most commonly, these include project managers, product managers, the marketing team, designers, someone from legal, external stakeholders, and clients.

When multiple stakeholder groups need to review the document, it often makes sense to split the process into different review steps. This means you get feedback and approval from one reviewer group, e.g. the marketing team, before you undertake the same review cycle on the document with the next reviewer group, e.g. the legal team. 

Why the document review and approval process is important

The document review and approval process is important for a wide range of fundamental reasons.

The benefits of a strong document approval workflow include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Minimizing the risk of errors
  • Ensuring new content successfully adheres to brand guidelines 
  • Utilizing the skills of the entire team 
  • Keeping the project to a clear timescale 
  • Increasing the quality of the content
  • Ensuring that all key deliverables are met
  • Fostering an environment of collaboration

As you can see, the importance of the review and approval process lies in using a sophisticated environment of team collaboration to maximize the likelihood of the project’s success.

The difference between review and approval

They may be a part of the same process, but review and approval are not the same thing. 

During the review phase, the reviewers are evaluating the proposed piece of work, to assess whether or not it is ready to be signed off on. If they identify any areas that still need improvement, then the reviewers can leave their feedback and suggest changes. 

The document approval workflow will only be proposed after one (at least) round of reviews. During this step, the project is approved (most commonly by the project manager or higher management) and it can then be published. At this point, the project is formally classified as finished.

The approval cycle is different from the review cycle because it only happens once and it comes at the end of the document creation process. Furthermore, no changes are made to the document at this stage – all changes should have been made previously, in the review phase. 

After approving the changes and finalizing the document during the document reviews, it is then classed as approved (and so, complete) during the document approval process. 

However, if the project manager still isn’t happy with the document at the approval stage, then they can send it back for another round of reviewing.

Document review and approval process in digital projects

Before we look at what makes a great review and approval tool, let’s explore what the document approval process actually looks like.

Document review and approval process in digital projects

1. The documents are shared with all stakeholders

Once the editor has finished the first draft of the document, they can start the document approval workflow. 

The first step is to share the document with all stakeholders, who have been identified before in the planning process. Typically, they include the project manager, any invested external parties, and specialists from other teams.

The document can be shared with stakeholders in several ways, but the most successful way to approach this is by using an online review and approval platform like Filestage. With this tool, the creator can upload the document to an online cloud-based location, invite reviewers by adding their email address or share the review link via messenger. 

2. Reviewers leave and discuss feedback

Now the reviewers can open the document, review it, and have the opportunity to suggest any amendments.

When using an online document review and approval tool, reviewers can leave feedback in the form of comments and annotations. Different reviewers can focus on their area of expertise while reacting to the comments left by other reviewers. 

The comments can highlight areas of weakness, grammar errors, pose questions, raise a point of discussion, or pinpoint exact areas for specific changes by using the tool’s highlight function. All these comments are stored on the cloud-based platform.

Reviewers leave and discuss feedback - document review and approval

3. Changes are implemented and the new version is shared

After all reviewers have left their feedback, the document editor opens the document and goes through all the feedback. 

The editor then uses this feedback to make the desired changes to the document. If done well, the reviewers’ feedback should contain enough clarity and detail that no follow-up questions are needed, and the updates can be completed efficiently.

Now, the editor uploads and shares a new version of the updated document with the stakeholders, so that changes can be tracked.

4. Stakeholders review the new version and leave more feedback

The stakeholders now have the opportunity to review the updated document and leave more feedback. This stage is very similar to the previous review round, but there should (ideally) be fewer amendments required. Reviewers can also compare the new version of the document with the previous version, to evaluate the success of the updates.

At this stage, it is common to focus on small details and specific changes. This can include, for example, suggesting synonyms for particular words or requesting a slight change in coloration. When all stakeholders have completed their reviews, the editor will be notified to take over.

Stakeholders review and leave feedback - document review and approval

5. Stakeholders approve the document

After the editor has made the needed changes to the document, they will upload the document once more, again as a new version.

Now, the stakeholders can review the document once again. However, after the two review rounds, there should be no more edits required. If this is the case, and all stakeholders are happy with the latest version of the document, they will approve it. 

When done through an online document review and approval platform, approval is officially granted by clicking on “approve.” The document will then automatically be marked as approved and is ready to be shared or published.

Stakeholders approve - document review and approval

Six tips for streamlining your document review and approval process 

So that’s what the process looks like. But, collaboration isn’t always easy. For instance, if just one reviewer takes ages to leave their feedback, the entire project’s timescale can be thrown off course. 

So the question is: how can you make document reviews as efficient as possible?

To make your document review and approval process as organized, easy, and fast as possible, let’s take a look at some key tips.

Tips for document approval process

#1 Use the best tools

The days of printouts and handwritten annotations are over. This process is inefficient and frustrating. And the guesswork involved means that the success of your project is jeopardized. A modern document approval workflow can’t exist like this!

Today, there are countless tools out there that can speed up your review and approval process while they help you monitor and implement every change you’ve been asked to make.

Quality tools for review and approval can solve many of your headaches, and they help make the process exponentially faster and more accurate.

Digital cloud-based collaboration tools like Filestage and Google Docs are a great way to keep all of the feedback centralized. In addition, internal messaging applications (like Slack) can be used additionally to send and answer quick questions, without clogging up the document. In short, the better your tool, the more effective your document approval workflow will be.

#2 Avoid large changes

It’s important to make sure that your review and approval process is focused on the details. Now isn’t the time for your stakeholders to make vast, sweeping changes that will completely alter your work.

To make sure you avoid these changes, you’ll need to develop a robust project scope statement and a clear project outline. These documents can help you accurately establish the goals of a project, so your team will hit the mark the first time around.

Before the project begins, you should get all of the key stakeholders to read and agree to the project scope statement and project outline. This tactic will help you avoid confusion during the review and approval process.

#3 Establish a clear language

Throughout the review and approval process, you need to collect the clearest feedback possible. A big part of achieving this goal involves ensuring that your team uses the clearest language possible.

Unclear language can confuse your team members and make it difficult for them to implement the desired changes. It can also make the review and approval process longer than it needs to be.

You should make sure that any technical language is clarified, and that you act as a go-between for your team and the stakeholders throughout the document approval workflow. To make sure that feedback is effective, you should also clarify any doubts among your team.

#4 Think about the review order

You need to think about the order in which your stakeholders will review your project collateral. It often makes the most sense to work your way up the ranks of seniority, and only request final approval from the most senior stakeholders.

As a project manager, you should use your discretion and read the dynamics of the project. Does your client want to be involved at each stage, or is he or she short on time? You should cater to the review and approval process each time.

You should also think about what makes sense, in terms of your project. Do you need to secure approval from a particular stakeholder before the project can move forward? If you take a closer look, a natural order could organically appear.

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#5 Create standards for feedback

As a marketing project manager, the review and approval stage is your time to shine. You can take hold of the process and demonstrate your value, then seamlessly and harmoniously bring your team together.

To make sure you gather your team properly, try to establish clear standards about the delivery of feedback. Your stakeholders will appreciate the guidance and attention, while your team will love the consistent and comprehensive feedback.

The right tool makes it easy for you to automatically create these standards. Platforms like Filestage empower your stakeholders to leave in-context feedback that’s clear and easy to understand.

#6 Foster a sense of collaboration

Throughout the review and approval process, it’s also important for you to foster a sense of collaboration. While everyone is technically on the same team, it could be challenging for everybody to keep sight of this comradery during the review and approval process.

Use your energy and people skills to protect your team. On one hand, you should give them constructive criticism. But on the other hand, you should show them your flexibility and desire to please your stakeholders.

As the project manager, you do have a critical role throughout the entire review and approval process.

The most important features for document review and approval 

As you’ve seen, the right tool is essential to the success of the project. But when it comes to choosing the best review and approval software, how should you judge the various options out there?

1. Document annotation and markup features

It’s important to make sure your chosen review and approval tool makes it simple to annotate documents in any format. The most powerful tools empower your stakeholders to leave in-context comments on a range of media types, including PDFs, images, and videos, all from one document management system. Then your team will be able to more easily understand feedback.

Document annotation and markup features - review and approval

2. Process builder

As we explored earlier, your review and approval process needs to have a distinct, deliberate, logical structure. The best document approval tools can help you cater to your particular needs, which makes it easy for you to adjust permissions and build a strong, effective process.

Process builder - document review and approval

3. Easy-to-use interface

Nobody enjoys wrestling with a new tool, particularly during the critical approving stage of a project. Your chosen tool should offer a clean user interface and an equally pleasant user experience. The best tools give you a plug-and-play experience that can be briefly mastered without any friction.

4. Versioning features

While managing the different versions of a file is never easy, it’s critical to the success of your project. If your team gets lost between different versions of reviewed documents, you’ll experience lots of confusion that can derail your project. So it’s important to make sure your chosen tool helps you and your team stay on top of different versions.

Versioning features - document review and approval

5. Simple process for inviting and communicating

As a marketing project manager, you want to make everyone’s life as easy as possible, and help them focus on the main priority: the project. If you choose the right tool, you’ll be able to quickly and easily invite everybody involved, and you can help them start communicating right away. Then everybody will appreciate how seamless the experience is and focus on the task at hand.

6. Tracking project performance

During the review and approval process, you can’t afford to miss a single comment or piece of feedback. Not only will it impact the quality of the final document, but it will also make you look bad in front of your stakeholders. So you need a tool that makes it easier to generate and track tasks.

Tracking project performance - document review and approval

7. Sharing files without signing up

Depending on your project, there’s a good chance you’ll have to communicate with external stakeholders. They’ll often have an entirely different setup, in terms of tech and tools. So you want a review and approval tool that’s cooperative. The best options make life easy by allowing you to share files, without your stakeholders having to create an account.

Document review and approval software

Now that you understand more about the process and how best to introduce it to your operations, let’s take a look at some of the best pieces of document review and approval software to help you on your way. 

Below, you can find out more about the document approval workflow tools on the market, and the unique benefits and specialist features of each one. 

Filestage

Filestage - Document review and approval software

Filestage offers users a smart and easy way to manage digital projects and files. The cloud-based platform helps teams share, review, and approve documents, images, videos, and audio files all in one place.

Reviewers can open the shared file in their browser and leave comments and annotations directly on the document. This makes feedback even clearer and more precise. Plus, the entire document review process is more transparent since reviewers can react to comments from others and collaborate in real-time. 

Filestage also makes it easy to meet deadlines by giving managers the possibility to assign a due date for each file. And they can see the status and track the progress of every file on the project dashboard. 

Smartsheet

Smartsheet - Document review and approval software

Smartsheet is a work execution platform that helps teams move from idea to impact. This tool has been around since 2006, and it has a set of loyal users. Its document management system helps teams assign tasks, track the progress of a project, and share documents.

The platform has a spreadsheet-like user interface, which is now a little dated and difficult to access. Therefore, it can be difficult for your stakeholders to get started and deliver the clear feedback your team needs.

Ziflow

Ziflow - Document review and approval software

Ziflow is a piece of online proofing software aimed at agencies and brands that want to simplify the review and approval process, in order to deliver projects more quickly.

Ziflow places a strong emphasis on usability, but many users complain that it’s difficult to configure. Furthermore, the process is cumbersome and lacks clear parameters, which makes it difficult to offer the seamless document approval process that your team members and stakeholders need.

Looking for more? Be sure to explore our article about the best software for document review and approval.

Conclusion

Now, you’ve got all the guidance you need to successfully implement a document review and approval process. We’ve covered all the steps, some key definitions, our top tips, and shared our recommendations for the best document review and approval tools.  

By centralizing the way you review and approve documents – introducing a consistent process that the whole team can follow – you can boost the efficiency, accuracy, and quality of the work that is produced after it is reviewed. All of this, while fostering an environment of collaboration and support. Talk about a win-win.

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