The commercial real estate approvals process is one of the more frustrating components in a project cycle. It is predictable and unavoidable and expansive, encompassing budgets, vendor selection, invoices and change orders. But somehow it’s usually neglected—not in being completed, but in being optimized.
Despite project managers, asset managers, property managers, vendors and administrators repeating the process month after month and year after year, capturing approvals in order to advance a project is generally inefficient and thoroughly inconvenient. Most organizations have been receiving and processing approvals the same way for years so the problems now seem like background noise.
However, if you listen closely to some of the common complaints and concerns that you and your team have when handling approvals, you’ll realize that these problems are easily identifiable and most can be neatly resolved.
1. “Is [Asset manager] traveling this week? Shoot! The approvals package is sitting on her desk waiting to be signed!”
Your project timeline should not be dependent on someone in the approval hierarchy physically being in the office in order to fulfill their portion of a project workflow. Everyone on the team should be able to provide their approval from wherever they happen to be that day.
2. “Is the sign off in the mail?”
Is it 1982? If not, then this question should never be uttered—about approvals or almost anything on your project. If you absolutely need to have a hard copy of something, it should be a secondary part of the procedure. Digital copies should be moving quickly through your project management process while the physical files wend their way through the postal system.
3. “Our admin is out unexpectedly so I don’t know the status of this approval. He should be back in a few days so I can update you then.”
Often the list of people who need to sign off on an approval and the order in which that happens is very well defined. However, tracking approvals through that chain can feel like looking into a black box. There is always someone who knows where it is and where it needs to go next, but information that impacts your project timeline should not exist solely in one person’s head or notes.
4. “Oh, is that how this region processes approvals? My last asset manager used a different form and required different attachments.”
Good risk management requires consistent strategies across your company, but if your approvals process is an Excel spreadsheet that has spawned several generations of offspring, it is going to breed inefficiency and create bottlenecks for your team.
5. “I’ll have the approval over to you shortly. I just have to copy all of the contract details from a different spreadsheet into this spreadsheet.”
Sometimes it’s easy to miss the days of carbon copies, when you only had to write something once and the carbon paper did the hard work of duplicating it.
The key pieces of data on your project—from the project address to the project manager’s name to the budget, key dates, internal codes and so on—need to be included in all important documents. That, of course, makes sense. But copying that information from one spreadsheet onto another document and into another email is redundant work that can be automated through a centralized data hub, letting project managers focus on the substance of the project instead of the admin tasks.
6. “Do we know when the printer will be fixed? I have approvals that need to go out.”
We have written time and again about the dangers of relying on old systems to manage modern teams and this is another example. This issue is similar to item #2, but in this case, instead of just passively waiting to receive something, your team is now actively frustrated trying to execute a step in the approvals process. The absurd part is that this step is entirely avoidable.
How to move from frustrated to efficient
Every delay on a project, even a small one, leads to a possible delay in a tenant moving in. This, of course, leads to delays in collecting rent on your property. There are good reasons to accept delays—your dream tenant will take the top three floors but wants some design changes first!—but waiting 24 hours for an envelope containing written approval from an asset manager is not one of them. Not when there are reliable, proven solutions available.
Make a mental review of your approvals process and consider if it could be improved by the following:
Using a digital system. Digital files are straightforward to track, faster to move, accessible from any computer or phone and lend themselves to better team collaboration.
Standardizing the process across your company. Consistent procedures create consistent habits that are easier to audit for improvements, teach to new hires and reinforce for success.
Centralizing your data and your approval workflows. Enabling your team to manage approvals from one online hub—from automating notifications on who needs to sign next to pre-populating fields with known data—reduces delays and errors.