Why Sign on the Dotted Line

johnhancocksignatureConsulting organizations often require signoff on deliverables to ensure that the client acknowledges that contractual obligations are met. Across organizational lines, these signatures, serve mostly a legal purpose. I often wondered about the use of signoff on deliverables inside of an organization where there is no external relationship. I’ve seen some development shops average as many as 15 or 20 of these sign-offs a day.

The intent of getting signatures on product deliverables, of course, is to ensure that the proper attention was given to the creation of the product. The cynic in me says it is to fix blame. In reality, I believe it points to a need to compensate for poor collaboration and broken processes. Once the decision has passed on whether to create the product or deliverable and allocate resources, forcing signatures at various check points in a process serves as an attempt to ensure everyone is kept informed and had an opportunity to participate. Of course, the problem with this is that at the point of sign-off, the ability to give meaningful input that can help formulate an improved solution is usually past. Unless those on the signature line are involved when needed in the discussions and decisions that get built, the signoff sheet at the end of the creation is likely to only be only a rubber stamping exercise.

What is a better solution? Ensure stakeholders get involved in the decision of whether or not a deliverable is of high enough priority to start. Once that decision is made, create a process that demands collaboration. Make one person (the product owner) responsible for representing and getting input across as many interests as they can understand. Involve those on the signature lines in planning and closeout sessions on a set basis where they can see the product or deliverables as they are built. If some input is of limited nature, start with that at these meetings or have the product owner represent the interest. Ensure the collaboration continues between these formalized checkpoints as well. By focusing on a collaborative process, everyone’s input can have a positive impact on the fit and quality of the product as it is created.

If your organization is signoff heavy, it’s probably time to find out what systemic problems need fixed.  

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