Each department should identify the ABCs within their workflow and then prioritize each grouping based on which items would have the greatest impact on improving firm productivity, taking into account the amount of effort and resources needed to solve the problem. In most cases, the “A” items just need to be organized within the context of the documented department workflow and with minor customization to the firm’s file naming and network directory conventions to be standardized. The firm would then allocate time to the identified experts for the “B” steps until the best practices for that step are well documented and firm personnel are trained. In most cases, the expert is among the most in demand within their department. So to make a reasonable amount of time available, I suggest that at least four hours per week be allocated (based on that person’s availability) for them to focus on standardizing that step until it becomes an “A.” For this process to be successful, the expert should be given “chargeable” credit so it is valued as highly as client work, because the reality is that each captured practice will make the entire firm more standardized and more productive. This time should also be focused, meaning it may be best to block out a conference room or work remotely to minimize external distractions and interruptions.
While the firm’s “A”s and “B”s are being documented, the department can address the prioritized “C” items, which will require outside personnel, training and vendor resources to resolve (and usually require expenditures and CPE that must be approved by the partner group). By specifically documenting the possible solutions to a “C” step and the educational resources that can provide the solution (articles, webinar, vendor training, user conference), the partners can outline expectations that can then be used to justify any expense and time requirements. Technology processes will continuously evolve as vendors roll out and stabilize new tools so the ABC prioritization process will need to be repeated annually to evaluate and adopt these changes.
Best Practices Identification
I have found the most effective processes to identify and evaluate best practices come from vendor webinars and user conferences that are validated by peer accountants. Each fall, the major vendors have user conferences and webinars that introduce new products and offer end-user sessions to discuss optimization of current tools. By attending these conferences or the webinars, firm experts can be educated on what is possible as well as be exposed to trainers and end users who have already implemented these processes. By networking with such individuals, the expert can confirm the best practices are working and possibly get access to already developed documented procedures that the firm can customize to its needs.
The key to capturing best practices is to put them into a format where they can be effectively utilized by all personnel whenever and wherever they need it. By default, this would be a digital document that is stored on the firm intranet, local hard drive or portal. Most firms store these documents in a searchable PDF or Microsoft Word document so keywords can be used to find information. In addition to explaining the process in a textual context, it is important to integrate actual screen captures of processes that show the menu options, firms’ network directories, and file naming conventions. For firms still on Windows XP, tools such as SNAG-IT and Camtasia can capture images in condensed format. Windows 7 has an integrated “Snipping” tool. The documentation should be developed so that it can be utilized not only as a reference guide, but also for training of new personnel. By exposing them to best practices in a centralized format available online, they will learn to rely on that resource whenever they have questions and can access it at their own convenience.
One of the key differentiators of the most effective firms is that they identify and capture standardized best practices that promote efficiency (and profitability) in such a way that every person in the firm can take advantage of them. By prioritizing the ABCs of workflow, firms can start a process to capture best practices before they walk out the door.