Sign-off processes are necessary parts of software development, but can produce unnecessary delays. By designing and automating efficient approval workflows, you can reduce wasted time and save costs while accelerating product delivery.
Formal approvals are crucial in large organizations and in sectors governed by regulatory standards where transparency is key. In safety-critical product development, roles, responsibilities, and activities need to be reported on throughout product delivery.
Reviews and sign-offs may be required for starting processes, or right before completing them – but one thing all approvals share is that there’s an element of waiting involved. Requirements, quality documents, validation reports, but also project plans and other work items are often subjected to multiple rounds of sign-offs before they can move ahead according to their own underlying workflows.
In fact, sign-offs can take surprisingly long in a software development environment that relies heavily on collaboration, stalling processes until the necessary approvals are secured. Therefore, streamlining review processes has the potential to really accelerate (and thus, cut the costs of) your product development lifecycle.
How to build an efficient approval process?
In the digital era, it should come as no surprise that the key to streamlining sign-off procedures in software delivery is to digitalize & automate them. Removing the manual aspect and formalizing reviews helps ensure transparency which is often the first casualty of manual approval logging and documentation.
It makes sense to choose a collaborative software development platform that offers built-in capabilities to manage sign-offs so that traceability is maintained.
To build an efficient approval process, you’ll need to first map out your current processes, and design the approval pathway that’s going to inform the underlying logic of your workflow. You will then embed this approval procedure in your existing workflows to make sure all processes are fully controlled. Identify where approvals will be required in your workflow, and what elements the sign-off should contain.
In general, you’ll want to make sure the following steps and elements are covered by your approval process:
Automated or manual approval submission
Will all items of the same type need to be approved? For instance, requirements with a major impact on the safety or quality of your end product will definitely require approvals, while lower-impact artifacts may not. For high-impact items, you may want to automate the submission of the approval request by integrating the process in the workflows of these important requirements, or add guards (approval gates) that call for manual review submission. With lower-impact items, however, it may be better to just allow developers to start the approval process manually. In that case, you’ll need to provide developers with an interface for requesting approvals.
Assigning moderators & reviewers
It’s a good idea to appoint a person responsible for moderating and monitoring approvals on specific work item types. It will be this person’s responsibility to make sure sign-offs are processed in a timely manner. As part of the review kickoff, your developers will also need to be able to assign approvers to their requests (e.g. whose approval they are seeking with that particular item).
Naturally, you’ll want to make sure approvers are immediately notified that there’s an item waiting for their sign-off. You may also want to set notifications for the moderator if a specific item’s approval is stalled. Similarly, the developer submitting the review request will need to be notified if the item in question is given the green light.
Different permission levels may be appropriate for the many stakeholders involved in the approval. Generally, the reviewer will ultimately have two options: to approve or to (temporarily) reject the item. Moderators, however, will also need a right to modify or restart reviews as they see fit.
Documentation and review logging
In a regulated environment, the documentation of reviews is a crucially important step. All this information goes right into the audit trail log that is necessary for compliance audits. In the development of medical technology, for instance, FDA Title 21 CFR Part 11 requires that the following information is recorded on all e-signatures: timestamp, printed name of the approver, and the meaning of the e-signature. All this needs to be recorded in human-readable format, with an e-signature that is unique to the approver and is non-separable from the record itself. Other regulations may have different requirements, but the accurate logging of approval data is a universal requirement.
Specific tools exist to automate approvals that cover all these requirements with advanced functionality. For optimal traceability, it makes sense to manage approvals on work items right where your development data is. The Review Hub in Intland’s products simplifies the management of approval processes and makes compliance audits easier to tackle by automatically recording all review information. Learn more in the blog post below, or try our products for free!