Using Acrobat Shared Review for Approval Workflows – Part 1

Life Sciences firms often have burdensome requirments for the approval of even the simplest of marketing materials due to the highly regulated nature of the bio-pharma industry.

It is not uncommon for each new marketing asset to require an extensive review from representatives from the line of business, technical experts, legal, marketing and other stakeholders.

Adobe offers tools in its LiveCycle family of products such as the LiveCycle Managed Review and Approval Accelerator, that help automate, track and move docments through workflow processes.

A server solution is most effective when there are a large number of users who need to be part of the approval process. Of course, to deliver this kind of solution, you need budget and the full support of IT, as well as the time and resources to implement it.

If you are limited in funds and need a solution right away, using a desktop tool like Acrobat can be a great alternative for document review which let’s you get up and running fast with virtually no IT involvement.

Acrobat Shared Review

Acrobat’s Shared Review feature allows multiple people, in real time, to add notes and mark-ups to documents, and to approve or reject suggested changes.

In order for multiple users to interact, a server is needed to act as repository for the comments. Acrobat synchronizes comments between all the users in the review. You can use any network folder that the reviewers can read and write to, or a SharePoint workspace which provides reviewers access.

To extend review to users outside the firewall, your IT organization could set up SharePoint as an extranet providing log-ins for partners.

Each user can choose when they want to publish and receive comments. In this simplified animation below, an Acrobat Pro user is publishing a comment and several Adobe Reader users are receiving the comments.

Note: I only show the syncing as one-way in the animation, but in fact all users can sync their comments with others on the team.

Read on to find out more about Shared Review.

Shared Review and Approval Background Materials

I’ve previously written about using Shared Review and even posted a narrated presentation. In that article, I covered how to set-up Shared Review in Acrobat 9.

Acrobat X offers a few additional features, notably the ability to relocate the review documents which broke workflows previously.

Here are some links to short videos Shared Review in Acrobat X::

The videos above adequately cover reviewing PDFs, but don’t address Acrobat’s ability to actually approve changes.

Approval Scenarios

A common time-consuming task in bio-pharma is managing changes in existing collateral. Whenver a change occurs, approvals from various stakeholders are required,

Here are two possible scenarios that you might encounter:

Review Suggested Changes on Existing Materials

You use commenting tools to markup exiting documents with your proposed changes.

Review Changes made on Updated Materials

You have updated the collateral itself and need approval for your proposed changes..

  1. A review coordinator (you?) marks up existing PDFs and highlights proposed changes
  2. Approvers review the changes and may accept them, reject them or suggest alternatives
  1. An outside agency or internal marketing team will make changes to a document and PDF it
  2. Changed items are highlighted by a Review Coordinator (you?)
  3. Approvers review the changes and may accept them, reject them or suggest alternatives


Acrobat allows reviewers to approve or reject any suggested change:

Approve or Reject a change
See Results in Comments List

Making the Process Work Internally

As a review coordinator, you have a big stake in getting documents reviewed accurately and on time. That’s certainly the advantage of Shared Review for you, but in order to gain the cooperation of your colleagues, you’ll need to not only sell them on the idea but also make it easy for them to participate.

Here are some tips to sell this concept internally;

Best Practice
Introduce a new concept for reviewing documents Focus on the benefits to the reviewers

  • Fewer meetings and web conferences
  • Avoid conflict and misunderstandings by commenting on the document itself
  • Move the review process away from writing emails about a document to actually working on the document itself

Set Clear Expectations

  • Let reviewers know how often you will be sending them documents to review
  • Share with reviewers how you will alert them.
  • For example, “When you get a review from me, the subject line will alway start with . .  .”
Introduce Why to the Equation Make it Personal

  • Make sure you are asking the right person to review the document ahead of time.
  • Send each document with a personalized email.
  • For example, “Barbara, I need you to comment on this document because of your expertise in XYZ.

Include the Business Need

  • Why is this review important to your organization? Make sure your colleagues understand.
  • For example, “This document needs to be reviewed by legal, R&D and Compliance in order to make our announce date for Product X the 15th of next month.
Make it easy for reviewers to particpate Use Familiar Methodologies

  • Use email to deliver review documents instead of requiring a server log-in
  • Don’t surprise reviewers. Send them an email 2-3 days before letting them know you’ll be sending them a document to review. Even better, tell them in person or over the phone
  • Email sent with attached document should contain clear, visual instructions

Make it Simple for the Reviewer

  • Limit reviewers to Accepting, Rejecting, or Rejecting with a Note
  • Don’t require a Reviewer to use many tools, or any if possible
  • Create a 1-page QuickStart Guide
Praise Consistently, Remind Respectfully Communicate Consistently

  • Thank a reviewer each time they participate by sending a short email
  • Call reviewers to remind them that you need their help. Send a polite email reminder emphasising the personal and business need
Make it Engaging Make it FunWhen I demonstrate reviewing in Acrobat, I always show how to create a custom stamp. You can create custom stamps add a fun cartoon character to the review document. Once I surprised a colleague during a live demo by stamping a picture of Godzilla on the page!


In my next article, I’ll walk you through the process of marking up changes and sending the file out for Shared Review.

Read on for Using Acrobat Shared Review for Approval Workflows – Part 2

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