A guide to documenting your accounting firm's processes

Have you ever taken a step back and really thought about your firm? A deep analytical look. Not just the sum of its parts, but every single process that makes your firm run like a well-oiled machine?

It's a lot to think about. What if you had a way to access this information all in one place? 

Documenting processes—creating a manual for your firm—is a great way to ensure all tasks are not only repeatable but that they flow naturally from one to the next. It’s your best way to make sure services are delivered to clients consistently every time, and in the most efficient way possible.

What is process documentation?

Process documentation involves outlining each step needed when completing tasks or processes. It's an internal document of the lifecycle of your processes. Documenting processes is more about how each task is implemented rather than what the task impacts.

Your firm essentially is a conglomeration of intertwined processes—if the exact "hows" aren't written down in a document staff members can reference, steps can get lost. Your processes are repeatable and fundamental to your success, so documenting processes serves as a guide for you and your staff to reference as needed.

The purpose of documenting processes

Documenting your accounting firm's processes is akin to designing a roadmap—it illustrates the current state of process tasks and offers genuine insight into how they can be improved. Creating a processes document offers consistency for your firm and lets you examine and modify each process as you go, if needed.

Consider this—even astronauts at NASA, who've spent thousands of hours in training and manning missions, must rely on a preflight checklist. They don't rely on their memory. And no step is considered inconsequential.

Documenting your accounting firm's processes also provides insight into what your staff are doing—it's a transparent look into how your firm works from the inside out. 

If your processes aren't documented, each time they're repeated, they're essentially redesigned by whoever performs the task. If a team member leaves, all of that process knowledge leaves too, unless you've properly documented it.

The importance of documenting your accounting firm's processes

There are several reasons why documenting processes for your accounting firm is important.

For instance, by documenting your processes you:

  • Enable your firm to be easily scalable

  • Store your firm's processes as knowledge capital

  • Add value by saving time

  • Increase staff productivity

  • Offer consistency

  • Allow for accountability

  • Create more structure for your firm

  • Protect your clients

  • Protect your firm

Examples of documenting processes

One of the most common examples of a process document is SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) text. Other examples include performance reviews, billing processes, collections processes, client grievance resolution processes, and new hire onboarding processes. Your firm can benefit from having all these processes documented in detail.

Basic process documentation

Process documentation helps you achieve:

  • Optimization—By documenting processes, you can identify staff inefficiencies and/ or where bottlenecks occur. You'll get a bird's-eye view into which processes need improvement and which simply need to go.

  • Automation—Documenting processes show you which tasks you can automate, allowing you to redivert resources to high-value client-facing output.

  • Onboarding—New hires can learn their role faster and know which tasks they'll be responsible for, fast-tracking their ability to provide value to clients and your firm.

  • Knowledge retention—Keeping a record of your firm's tasks and processes preserves the knowledge, so it's not known to just a handful of your staff (or worse: leaves with an outgoing employee).

  • Consistency—Documenting processes ensures that each time a staff member performs a task, no steps are added or forgotten.

The greatest value process documentation offers is the standardization of processes that already have merit. It helps you identify and scale what works, figure out ways to fix what doesn't, and easily share it all with everyone in your firm. It's the very framework of process management for firms of all sizes.

What to consider when documenting your accounting firm's processes

Before beginning your process documentation journey, consider the following:

Do you already have process documentation?

If you have existing process documents, how many steps does each task or process have? If you don't have anything documented yet, consider using process documentation software to start mapping the steps. Delegate mapping the tasks you don't perform to the staff who do.

How long do the steps in each process take?

When looking at each task, consider every step in the process by itself. Decide how long each of these steps should take— this will help you know how long each process should be as a whole.

Are there steps that are problematic?

Which steps tend to cause issues? And how often? Identifying where bottlenecks occur is a clue as to where you need solutions first.

Which steps take the longest?

Steps that take up a lot of staff time don't necessarily need improvement—but these are the steps that need attention. Is it possible to shave off even a little time? If you can, the time and cost savings can add up.

Which staff members perform the steps?

Every staff member involved in a process—from managing and performing to approving—should be involved in documentation. Any change impacts these staff members. They'll also know exactly why they perform steps in a specific order—quirks that may seem like issues to the unknowing eye.

In redesigning or building process documentation from scratch, you'll find that some steps are more necessary than others. Any changes or refinements made can't sacrifice the quality of your firm's service.

Uncover opportunities by documenting your accounting firm’s processes

Investing time into analyzing your firm’s processes can uncover opportunities for improvement in the way your staff approach, perform and track tasks. Ultimately, it’s an exercise in optimization, preparing and guiding your firm for growth.