Special feature from the February 2012 digitial issue.
As deployed technologies continue to advance and change within the tax & accounting firm environment, the way in which practices track a work product from point of entry through point of delivery is also changing. Many firms have successfully made the leap to automated workflow tools and now, with two to three years behind them, some best practices are starting to emerge.
If your firm is still using a spreadsheet application to track the status of jobs as they move throughout the firm, it's time to give an automated workflow tool a look. Many of these tools have come a long way from their start in the tax outsourcing space to fully functional workflow management tools for the entire firm.
For a workflow tool to be embraced by the partners and staff in a firm, it needs to be simple to use - not create additional work to accomplish the goal - and there must be a noticeable benefit surrounding job status.
Using my own firm as an example, we initially implemented our workflow tool about four years ago. Since then, we have successfully deployed that tool around every single revenue generating service, involving the delivery of a final work product. It took a number of re-visits to our workflow process to get it right, but today, all of our offices and nearly 500 partners and staff have the ability to check on the status of any job by simply opening a web browser and visiting a dashboard that can be customized to each of their specific needs.
Over the years we've developed a few best practices internally, in addition to picking up some best practices from those firms that traveled the path before us. Although some of these suggestions may not be a perfect fit within your specific firm, many can be tweaked to meet your needs.
Take a Global Approach
Professional firms today deliver many different types of products to their clients, so limiting the deployment of a workflow tool to one specific revenue stream or product line doesn’t make a lot of sense. Although I will be the first to agree that some departments or product lines may desperately need a workflow solution more than others, those that are currently functioning well without one have the ability to function even better.
For example, many firms have deployed workflow solutions solely in the tax area of the practice, tracking the flow of source documents and the work product from point of entry through point of delivery. Since in a majority of firms, most staff are engaged in performing tax, accounting and auditing and consulting services, a different workflow process needs to be established for each of those deliverables. These differences, as slight as they may be, tend to create inefficiencies and hurt overall realization.
Best Practice - Take the global approach from the start. Look at every deliverable at your firm and examine each of the steps that are important milestones leading up to the delivery of that work product to the client. Deploying a workflow solution globally will allow the partners and staff to collaborate on all engagements and will standardize the workflow process, regardless of deliverable.
Don’t Get Too Deep
When tracking the flow of work throughout the firm it is important that such tracking does not go too deep. In other words, keep the view high level at 30,000 feet! If you micro manage the flow of work and attempt to identify every single point of touch, you could be setting yourself up for failure.
Best Practice – Step 1: Identify point of entry and point of delivery for every product/service that you wish to track. Step 2: Spend time identifying the points in between those identified in step 1 that are critical to be identified and measured. Make sure the milestones identified in step 2 are high level and that they do not create a burden upon the professional to identify. For example, in the tax process, at a minimum you would identify: