12 questions to ask when reviewing your firm's process management

At the core of your accounting practice lies process management. How well you design and standardize jobs like client onboarding, completing a BAS, or handling a tax return impacts your firm’s efficiency, output and bandwidth. 

Not only must you carefully plan how each process is completed, you also need to revisit each one regularly to ensure you’re keeping up with best practices, new technologies and the changes in your team. You want to ensure you’re completing everything as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Here are 12 questions you can ask yourself and your team, which will ensure every piece of the puzzle is considered in the review and refinement of any process.

Before you begin.

When was the last time this process was reviewed?

Technology is constantly improving, which means many accounting tasks that once took days, are now performed in minutes. The steps, speed, and staff involved in most processes will have changed as a result, but maybe without much deliberate consideration. It’s therefore unlikely every process is being performed as efficiently and effectively as possible. As part of your process management plan, you should aim to review each process in full at least every twelve months. 

Is this process documented?

Documenting your processes is essential. It allows you to standardize, define roles, improve training and scale your business much easier. If your steps are documented, the following questions will be much easier to answer. If not, try to rectify this following this review.

Your analysis.

How many steps does the process have?

Count the number of steps in your process by looking at your existing documentation, or if this doesn’t exist, map out the process using software such as Gliffy. You may be removed from some areas, so ask team members to take the lead on this if they’ve been delegated a certain process. They should be involved in answering these subsequent questions too. 

How much time does each step take?

Now you’re looking at the individual steps of a process, you can look at each in isolation, making it simpler to assess the details. Identify an approximate time unit for each step so you know how long every individual aspect takes to put together.

Which are the most problematic steps?

Identify the steps that cause the most issues, the most often. Find where roadblocks or bottlenecks commonly occur, and where progress slows. These are the first areas you’ll need to find solutions for.

Which are the most time-consuming steps?

A step that takes a lot of time doesn’t automatically mean that it’s a step that can be improved, but you should still pay extra attention to these ones. If you can cut down even a fraction of the time these steps take, it will add up to much bigger savings.

Which business functions or team members are involved?

Consider every individual and team involved in this process—who manages it, who performs the work, who approves it. Any changes will impact them, and they’ll also be aware of issues or quirks you may not have considered, so involve them in the redesign process and encourage them to take ownership and responsibility.

How much impact does each step have on the total cost and quality of the process?

You’ll likely find that certain steps contribute more than others towards the quality of your output. Any refinements you make to these cannot sacrifice quality. Some other steps might require significantly more resources and therefore cost your firm more. 

Finding potential improvements.

What technology is available to help this run smoother?

Explore any technology that will let you do more with less. The accounting software ecosystem includes a wealth of options for workflow management, compliance, reporting and client engagement—the list is endless. Research what solutions will help your particular process run smoother. This might require an investment, so you need to assess whether the savings in time and money will be worth that in the long term.

Which steps could be automated?

Often the tedious or repetitive jobs are the biggest cause of issues and eat into your team’s time most, so wherever possible look for areas to automate. There are a wealth of software, apps and tools available to make these processes easier.

What other changes can be made to improve this process?

Some issues you’ve identified will need you to think outside the box to find a solution. The biggest problems can be solved by looking at your flow of information, so consider redefining roles and responsibilities of your staff, looking at your firm’s structure, and changing the way you communicate with clients. Involve your team and ask them to brainstorm ideas as well.

What impact will these changes have on those who do the work?

Before implementing any changes, consider how they’ll affect your team—they’re the ones who will be working in the trenches on these processes each day. Conceptualize the change and talk it through with managers. Your goal is to make sure each aspect of every operation is well-planned and performing as well as it could, but this could do more harm than good if your staff are unhappy. 

Effective process management requires you to find answers to each of these questions. If you can do this, you’ll be able to rework the way your firm operates with methods based on the accounting and management tools that are at your disposal today. Improving the steps in each process will mean your team can acheive much more with less. And as technology grows even smarter, this is a trend that will only increase. 

The Practice growth playbook provides you with a set of tools to transform your practice and double your profits in one year, and includes a section on effective process management. Drawing on strategies employed by some of the world's most progressive firms, you'll learn how you can grow rapidly and build a sustainable firm. Download for free.

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