Accounting Firm Workflow Management Basics

Creating a manageable workflow and process is a great way to firm up your firm. Managing your workflow, and outlining a detailed set of steps for each process, can benefit both you and your clients.

What is Workflow Management?

Workflow refers to a detailed set of steps to accomplish a task that are not only planned beforehand, but are repeatable and, ideally, produce the same outcome each time. You can manage your workflow on paper, in a spreadsheet, or by using a time-saving workflow application. Workflow management is the system that organizes this workflow.

To design a beneficial workflow management system, you should address:

  • How you’re using technology and if it’s improving your communications
  • Whether your current task management system is seeing tasks to completion
  • How your practice resources are being analyzed and allocated
  • How to deliberately integrate all of the systems you’re currently using to create one streamlined workflow process

How Do You Manage Communications?

A structured method of communication between your firm and its clients, as well as among staff and management, is crucial to maintaining a solid workflow. While face-to-face communication is a necessity for some things, a simple email or text message will suffice for others. Imagine you missed an important client phone call, so they sent you an email regarding a service they would like to add to their account, but you didn’t see the email for a number of hours. What if you had an app that automatically sent any client request for added services directly to your rolling task list?

How Do You Manage Your Task List?

Your firm’s ever-present to-do list maintains client information, account specs, client needs, due dates, and methods for marking priority items. Where do you keep your task list? If it’s on paper, or a chalkboard, or any other physical item where your staff has to physically be present in order to mark items as completed, you could be losing out. Implementing a workflow management app would make all items on the list accessible to all staff, at any place or time. If one of your key members is working from home, they will still have access to your task list and can virtually note the stage of completion for any task.

How Do You Manage Your Firm Overall?

Your task list ultimately becomes billable hours, which you can analyze for improvements. Successfully managing your firm requires you to allocate resources, track time, accurately bill, and note your key performance indicators, or KPIs.

  • Allocating resources–the delegation of tasks to staff
  • Time tracking–monitoring how long each task takes
  • KPIs–the end results of all the above

Integrating New Workflow Systems

When designing your workflow management system, consider using tools that sync data. Expense tracking, payroll management, and other tasks can be integrated for a seamless workflow. On the other hand, if you choose tools that don’t integrate, or that only do so partially, your workflow management will not be as efficient as it could be–or worse, less efficient.

What is a Standard Workflow Process?

Workflow, simply defined, is how you complete your jobs. For instance, the standard workflow process for a freelance writer is:

  1. Write first draft
  2. Submit to editor
  3. Editor sends back for revisions, or approves the piece.

After the third step, there is a split in how the work will flow. If the editor sends the piece back for changes, then the writer makes the changes and resubmits. This brings us back to step three in the process. If the editor approves the piece, it gets published, and the next task begins.

The various workflow processes in your accounting firm are likely much different. A vital key to workflow process efficiency is making sure that the process is easily repeatable, and that your employees have been taught each step of each process.

It’s also worth noting that an influx of new clients is not necessarily cause to hire more staff. Hiring staff means teaching your processes, and sometimes in the thick of deadlines, it’s not such a good idea. A highly functional workflow system is much better than an abundance of staff, and can help your bottom line by reducing the need to add to payroll.

How Can You Improve Your Existing Workflow Processes?

There are four crucial steps to improve the workflow processes you’re using now. First, chart out the steps in your current workflow, leave nothing out. Second, define which parts of your workflow are critical, and which can be modified or done away with. Third, commit yourself to a written version of efficiency metrics. That is, how can you know if a step is efficient? This varies a lot with different products, and even between steps in the same workflow. You have to use your experience here. Finally, try to work in some kind of validation, or feedback loop, that can tell you if the way you’re working is productive or not. This can be customer feedback being routed to your design team, or it can be something more elaborate. In any case, the people at every stage of the flow need constructive and ongoing criticism to know whether they’re on the right track or not.

Which metrics should be measured?

To define an efficient process, you first have to create metrics and measure the processes you’re currently using. Then change some steps to make the process more efficient, and gauge its effectiveness based on the metrics you created. Some of the most common metrics used to gauge the efficiency of workflow processes are:

  • Time to complete a step in the process
  • Time to complete the entire process
  • How much it costs to complete the process
  • The employees involved in the process (i.e. does this measurement change with different staff?)
  • Predictability of the outcome

Brainstorm ways to improve

After you’ve captured actual measurements for the processes you’re critiquing, note where various methods could be altered, either minutely or on a grand scale. If you can shorten or even eliminate certain steps, you’ll be passing on the efficiencies to your clients, while improving your profit margin.

Tools and Technology to Automate Your Workflow Processes

Apps and other programs that automate your workflow processes can significantly ease your firm’s workflow overall. For instance, you may want to automate your expense reimbursement. For this, you need several processes to sync, or “link up.” Your current expense reimbursement likely involves employees bringing you a receipt after they’ve purchased something for the firm with their own money. You take the receipt and reimburse them from petty cash, after which you must reconcile the difference in beginning petty cash and ending petty cash for the day via accounting entries. These steps can be completely automated.

With an automated expense reimbursement app or program, you instruct your staff to download an expense tracker. Any time they make a purchase on behalf of the firm, they use the app to take a photo of the receipt and click send. This tool then syncs with your accounting applications, automatically updating your entries. The app is also linked to your payroll accounting software, which reimburses your staff the next pay period. Imagine the time saved, and the other processes this could be applied to in your firm. Ready to see how efficient your firm can be? QuickBooks Online Accountant helps you manage projects, tasks, and clients together. Sign up for free.

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