Most marketers face traffic jams of Los Angeles-level proportions when attempting to secure final approval for projects.

Consider the common process of sending almost-finished assets out to stakeholders. Some stakeholders respond in a timely manner, some don't. Oblivious to the fast-approaching deadline, a stakeholder can suddenly request drastic changes. Then the changes are made and another round of feedback ensues.

Repeat that process several more times, and you have an inkling of what it feels like to be stuck in the review and approval traffic jam. It feels as if your project—which once had so much momentum and promise—has stalled at the finish line.

Mixed-up versions, endless rounds of feedback, wasted time assembling everyone's feedback... whatever your biggest gripe in the review and approval process, wishful thinking won't be enough to get things moving. You can't just hope people will provide speedy feedback without any babysitting or follow-up. Even bombarding stakeholders with email after email won't produce the desired result.

Unless you start applying some much-needed accountability and structure to your process, tardy projects and headaches are inevitable for the foreseeable future.

To help you get out of the review and approval traffic jam, here are four best-practices.

1. Identify approvers at each stage

From request through creative brief, asset development, and production, providing a clear picture of the needed approvals ensures that no one will be forgotten or added to the list at the last minute.

Accordingly, every project needs a single Supreme Ruler—that person who bears responsibility for granting that final stamp of approval or settling discrepancies—whether it's the creative director, project manager, or client.

Neglecting to identify these decision-makers up front can result in costly rework, missed deadlines, overblown budgets, or inadequate deliverables—and exhaust resources and revenue faster than almost anything else.

2. Standardize request submissions and approval

This is the Minority Report approach to the review and approval logjam: Stop it before it happens.

By creating a standardized request approval process, including some robust requirements-gathering, you eliminate many of the curveballs that stakeholders tend to throw at you later on.

A standardized request process gives stakeholders the opportunity to tell you exactly what they want, and it gives you the ability to record all of their comments just in case they change their tune later on. Non-requestor stakeholders (think creative directors or marketing execs) have the chance to preview the project and raise a red flag in case anything doesn't sit well with them.

The best part is that it all happens before any resource time has been expended. When it works the way it should, it weeds out requests that would never have made it anyway. And by securing stakeholder buy-in and cutting out last-minute surprises, it also clears the road for those projects that do pass muster.

3. Proof in one place

Accelerate the review and approval process by consolidating your proofing into one place—virtual or actual. If you don't have a digital proofing tool, whenever possible consider having all your stakeholders proof in the same room, so you can get it all at once. Of course, the most effective proofing comes with digital tools that provide a single spot for comparing versions side by side, capturing all comments, and providing feedback directly on the proof.

Giving the asset owner meaningful feedback digitally in the proof increases clarity and accountability, decreases errors, and cuts turnaround times for revisions. Even better, knowing that everyone is working in the right version of the asset eliminates the confusion that multiple versions can cause. Stakeholders can consider others' feedback and even give the green light without ever having to arrange a meeting, schedule a phone call, or chase down a file.

Tracking edits in one place also adds up to time savings that marketing teams can't ignore. According to ProofHQ, teams that use digital single-point proofing see a 56% increase in speed-to-market speed, a 59% drop in time spent managing proofs, and a 29% reduction in number of revisions.

4. Define done

Too often, the finish line will be in sight when one last person swoops in with significant changes that force yet another review cycle.

Such occurrences might seem to be a natural side-effect of working with multiple stakeholders with varying viewpoints, different needs, and contrasting opinions; however, experience shows that they actually result from a failure to set an agreed-upon threshold for approvals. The approval deadline should be set in stone at project kickoff—and no later.

When the date of the deadline is made known to with all approvers and enforced, it holds them accountable and increases the chance that they will give feedback promptly. Perhaps more important, it makes approvers think twice before demanding drastic, last-minute changes.

Switch to the review and approval fast lane

By learning how to better manage their project review and approval processes, marketing teams can avoid the delays and inevitable cascading effect such delays can have on campaigns and other projects.

Eliminating the roadblocks, identifying approvers from the beginning, streamlining and standardizing processes, proofing in one electronic place, and setting rigid approval deadlines free marketing teams from the review and approval traffic jam and get them back in the fast lane, where they need to be.

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Four Tips to Help You Avoid the Review and Approval Traffic Jam

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image of Bryan Nielson

Bryan Nielson is the CMO and work management evangelist at AtTask, maker of cloud-based enterprise work management solutions. He is the author of the e-book The Five Most Dangerous Marketing Productivity Myths: BUSTED!

LinkedIn: Bryan Nielson

Twitter: @AtTask