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Can't achieve document signoff, what are my options as Project Manager?

Projects typically have a myriad of documents which need to go through a quality process to achieve signoff to assure that these documents are "fit for purpose". I have covered the whole topic of managing the document quality process in a previous post which you may want to read first but in this post I want to tackle the topic of Project Management options if you can't achieve this signoff process within a reasonable planned timescale? 

This can be a significant problem if you are running the Project using a Waterfall lifecycle model and different lifecycles should be considered, if possible, in Projects where there are difficulties in establishing good quality early lifecycle documents. So for example, in the IT system development world, an Agile lifecycle can be used to tease out requirements and functional design from business users, I discuss Agile here.

Project Manager can't achieve document signoff - what options?

The basic points checklist

  1. I hope you planned sufficient time between issuing a good quality first draft of the document and expecting signoff. "Sufficient" is an open term depending on the size and complexity of your document and the quality review technique being used but a quick rule of thumb I use is a minimum of 10 working days from the production and issue of the good quality first draft
  2. Have you managed the quality review process, it is unlikely to happen by magic, especially if you are adopting the Review by circulation approach. I have given some tips on optimising the Review by circulation approach here but remember that walkthrough reviews normally achieve a better quality document and faster too!
  3. Have you chased the approvers for their signoff ideally picking up the phone because you can ask the direct question, why can't you signoff the document? This can achieve signoff or some corrective actions needed to the document and/or the forward plan to achieve signoff in the near future
  4. If you can't achieve a short term plan which has a high confidence of signoff and it is impacting your overall plan by increasing Risk (that the document will change before signoff and you need to start work on a subsequent deliverable to meet the overall plan in line with your Product Flow Diagram) then you should formally raise a Project Issue and make the (non) approver(s) aware that this has happened
  5. In terms of managing this Issue, your Sponsor or other Project Board members may be approached for assistance as they are senior stakeholders that are interested in the success of the Project delivery as they "own" the Project. It is a little more tricky when it is a member of the Project Board that hasn't signed off the document!!

The "Nuclear Option" - Baseline the Document without approval

Assuming that you have worked through the basic points above, you can make an executive decision to Baseline a document without it being Approved as "fit for purpose". This doesn't mean that you should stop the process to achieve signoff but the primary benefit is that any baselined document should only be changed through your Project Change Management process. So:
  • the document can be used for any subsequent work with a known baseline (e.g. in an IT waterfall model, build can commence from a functional design)
  • if and when you establish that changes are required to the document to achieve signoff, you impact assess the effect of the rework to achieve these changes on your Project (i.e. Time, Cost and Quality of the ultimate deliverable and Risk profile) and the Project Board needs to either accept or reject the change
If you want to invoke such an option I would always discuss the option with Project Board members / Sponsor. A variation on the theme is to tell the approver(s) that you will invoke this option should they fail to approve the document by date x in a few days time. This may focus minds sufficiently to gain the review and agreement of the document and is in line with the concept I always like to pursue, if possible, which is to telegraph my punches.

Good luck :)

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