Stages of Project/Relationship Initiation: Approval

This is the seventh in a series of twelve blogs that provide insight and tips on managing client relationships.  In this blog, we’ll discuss issues and solutions associated with the second stage of project/relationship initiation – The Approval Stage.


A sound diagnosis and a comprehensive definition set the stage for a smooth approval process.

In Diagnosis, the key is careful research into the organization’s history.  In Definition, the key is a clear understanding of the client’s needs and expectations.

In Approval, the key is firmly based in managing relationships, and in knowing the preferences and decision-making style of all the stakeholders (which you have identified in the process of defining the solution).

In the process of establishing Approval for the project, stakeholders fall into two major categories.

Decision Makers

These people are usually high-profile on the project, and they are consulted at all milestones and other junctures where “go/no go” decisions are made.  They can be:

  • The Project Leader
  • The Project Client
  • The Sponsor (providing funding, approval or support for the project)
  • Miscellaneous committees, boards, or managers who have a stake in the project’s success.


While decision makers are fairly easy to identify, influencers may be obvious OR transparent in the project planning process.

Obvious influencers are the people who will use the project outcome(s) and/or those whose individual or department functions will be impacted by the project.  These influencers tend to be well-integrated in the project and part of the unfolding process.  Though they may not make decisions, they are constantly using their authority to influence them.

Transparent influencers can be senior managers, longtime ‘vets’ in the organization, and other core players whose position or history give them significant power over the company’s culture.  The influence these folks exert is not documented or directed at specific decision points.  It’s impact is both subtle and substantial as it shapes the way things happen more so than specifically what happens.  You may not be able to pinpoint the source of their brand of influence, but you will certainly feel the impact.

The key then, to a smooth approval process, is to understand the needs, preferences and expectations of as many stakeholders as possible.

The better your understanding, the better your ability to manage the relationships.

Keep in mind that the relationships you have with your approval stakeholders can be multifaceted, and perhaps fluctuating.  You may functionally report to a decision-making stakeholder as well as serve their needs relative to the project.  Your relationships with influencers may vacillate from supplier to client and back again, depending on the stage of the project.  The most important success factor is to keep these people involved by providing them with the information they want, when they want it, and how they want it delivered.


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