I was reminded this week of one of the more common project issues – delays in getting formal approval or sign offs on project outputs.
We are taught that a good project management practice is to explicitly define the criteria for project acceptance as part of normal planning activities and to capture them in a formal document such as a project plan. Sometimes we go further and provide standard procedures for deliverable acceptance. Usually, there is limited resistance against either of these approaches and sponsors and stakeholders are willing to sign off on these “rules of engagement”.
So why then are there protracted delays during implementation or close-out on a per deliverable basis? I’ve identified three common causes:
- It’s not a priority: The sign off process may be viewed as unnecessary overhead by the signatories – after all the deliverable has been produced! Sometimes, this is a result of the individual not needing to be one of the signatories OR a case where a particular deliverable really does not require the formality of a sign off. And sometimes, its just laziness or a lack of understanding of the schedule or other business implications of such delays – if so, the PM should be sitting down with the signatory to explain the consequences of their delays and if nothing changes, escalate appropriately.
- Insufficient involvement of the signatory: Sometimes, the reason they are not signing off is that their (hidden or otherwise) needs were not met by the deliverable. You’d expect that such feedback would be provided earlier during requirements gathering, development or verification activities, but some stakeholders act as though their needs should be obvious, and then are “miffed” when they learn that the project team does not possess ESP. If this is the case, the project’s governance bodies need to consider whether the missing needs are important enough that they merit rework on the deliverable. This may also point to incomplete stakeholder analysis or engagement.
- Confusion about the meaning of the sign off: We are taught at an early age that signing a document means we are accepting a legal responsibility and some individuals treat the act of signing off on a deliverable as equivalent to giving away their first born. All formal sign offs should have a focused, clear explanation of what the signatory is accepting to avoid such confusion. As deliverable acceptance forms are often based on boilerplate templates, review the wording for each signature block before circulating it to ensure that project-specific context does not merit changes to the wording.
As with most sources of frustration on projects, a good approach is to focus on understanding and addressing the cause of the issue through careful preparation of deliverable acceptance documentation combined with appropriate engagement and education of stakeholders and other signatories.