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Lately, it seems like half my team is involved in writing reports, papers and articles about their work as opposed to doing the "actual" work. The problem is that mot of the time isn't spent in writing the first draft, it's in sending that draft to stakeholders and getting feedback on it that, while helpful, sometimes suggests taking the paper in very different directions.

It's particularly difficult when the person who will be responsible for final sign-off is fairly high up in management, so we want to avoid taking up too much of their time with multiple iterations of the same document - so the typical approach is to circulate the document around other stakeholders first, but then when we think it's ready to pass up the chain they sometimes ask for changes that pull the structure back to what it looked like before we spoke to all the other stakeholders.

This kind of thing can be very discouraging for the people involved, and it makes it much harder for us to have clear expectations of when these papers will be released and on planning our work in general.

As a team, we have had multiple discussions about strategies to mitigate this. Some of our efforts have had a level of success, but we'd still like some suggestions. I am particularly interested in whether there things that I, as a manager within the team, can do to make things easier for the staff I work with.

Things we've tried already include:

Getting feedback on the initial structure from the person doing the sign-off: This has helped, but there can still be conflicts when the other stakeholders have feedback that sounds good, but disrupts that structure.

Asking stakeholders to consolidate or coordinate their feedback: We don't have many good systems in place to enable this so it usually falls back on Word documents with "Track changes" enabled going back and forth in emails, and it's hard to book the stakeholders in for some kind of joint feedback session.

Telling stakeholders what parts we want them to give feedback on: This has worked a little, and it's good for them as well since they know where to focus if they're pressed for time.

Breaking stakeholders up into groups, and getting feedback from each group separately: Also partially successful. It makes coordinating the feedback easier, and we've been able to ask each group for feedback on individual components.

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I'd suggest streamlining the process somewhat so you do less work up front.

For the reports, your first draft could be made the bare bones in terms of high-level detail and structure. This should be fairly quick to right, and (crucially) easy for management to read.

Management (or anyone) doesn't want to read reams and reams of documentation - if anything can be done to make that initial assessment simpler and quicker, it will be welcomed.

Also, look at what feedback you had on previous drafts and pre-emptively address that feedback before it happens again.

Once you have the high-level documents approved, the detail can be added later and hopefully will also be approved.

Obviously, your team can work on the detailed parts of the documents while the high-level summaries are being approved.

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