Questions? Feedback? powered by Olark live chat software
Print Page  |  Contact Us  |  Your Cart  |  Sign In
The Boomer Bulletin - 2012
Blog Home All Blogs
Search all posts for:   

 

View all (41) posts »
 

Better Plans, Better People, Better Results

Posted By Drew West & Ken McCall, Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012

This article was co-authored by Drew West of Deltek and Ken McCall of Boomer Consulting, Inc.

Job Assignments in the Busy CPA Firm
Even firms that have fine-tuned their staffs with the best and brightest may find a full plate of client work waiting as business picks up after a few slow years.  For many firms, the challenge is best matching the staff with the job requirement.  An ideal match ensures the best possible client service, rewarding and challenging staff development, with efficient operations that yield higher profit for the firm.

But imagine this scenario:  You’ve proposed an engagement with a very specific client need:  a mix of online and catalog sales all over the U.S. with the resulting mix of state sales tax liabilities.  Laura is your staff’s true expert in this area and you’re counting on her expertise to turn a profit on this complicated job.  However, because your job assignment and tracking system is the Staff Scheduler’s Excel spreadsheet, you can’t know Laura is already assigned to another job at the time you need her.  David, who’s done something sort of like this once before says "I can handle it,” So the scheduling manager assigns him to your job instead.  (Do you already know how this ends?)  

David, in over his head, constantly calls Laura any time that he can reach her, distracting her from her own job and slowing down the work on yours.  In the end, the job takes longer than planned, the client is frustrated with the delay, you’ve got accrued hours you won’t be able to bill, both David and Laura are annoyed by the situation for different reasons, and you’re left doing damage control.  All simply because the assignment grid was locked away, unable to support your engagement-planning decisions. 

Why not avoid this kind of engagement nightmare?  Build in staff planning and scheduling right from the beginning, during the proposal process.  Think for a moment about the keys to getting the right person on the right job at the right time.

Availability.  Consider whether the person you need or want is even available.  In the example above Laura would have breezed through that job but she was already booked on other work.  At other times, the best person may be in CPE training, other professional development, or simply recharging away from the office.  Any issues that impact staff availability need to be visible while you are planning your engagement.

In today’s always-on, web-enabled and virtually mobile workforce, physical location is another important consideration in balancing workload.  It’s common for multi-office firms to share staff between offices, either for volume of workload reasons or for special skill requirements as in our example.  For this to work, of course, it’s critical that staff availability and skill inventories can be seen across all offices and not just where a person routinely works.

Expertise.  In our example, we needed very specific expertise.  Not everyone is equally good at everything, so we want to maximize both efficiency and client satisfaction by getting the right person on the job.  The hidden corollary to expertise is cost– people with advanced and specialized skills may be the more senior staff, commanding higher billing rates and salary costs.  Protecting margin on the job means assigning the needed skills but not over staffing, especially if a lower rate general staff member would suffice.  Of course, you might intentionally accept a lower level of efficiency (and net billings) on a given job so David could work and learn alongside Laura and begin to leverage that skill set to a broader base of staff.

Balance.  One of the great risks in making job assignments is always going to the people you have the most confidence in.  We’ve all seen this syndrome at work:  the best people get overloaded and the rest are underused.  This is a risky strategy on both sides.  The overloaded staff– the ones everyone wants on their job– risk burnout, while underutilized staff are frustrated by uneven workload and less challenging jobs.  Both situations could lead to the loss of valuable staff if the overloaded ones look for relief and the under-utilized look for more challenging opportunities elsewhere.  

Transparency.  Finally, resource planning is effective only if it’s transparent enough for anyone with need to see who’s available.  Approaches lacking transparency are ripe for two adverse effects:  silos of privileged information that only one or two "specialists” can view and interpret, or the aggressive partners gaming the system to get who they want for "their” jobs (regardless of internal cost) while other partners get what’s left over.

Why Firm Leaders Should Care
Firm leaders must please at least three constituencies:  clients, owners, and staff.  Clients want work done quickly ,accurately, and fairly priced.  Owners want the firm to be profitable.  And perhaps the most complex of the three, staff members, want interesting and challenging work, with a chance to grow professionally while being recognized and compensated for their skills and expertise.  Satisfying each of these groups requires that engagements be staffed with the right people, with the right skills, on the right job at the right time.  In today’s competitive environment, managing these nuances with outdated, siloed approaches just isn’t going to work.  Fortunately, modern resource planning approaches bring the transparency and control you need.  

The Resource Planning Solution
A good resource planning approach can address all of the issues raised above.  Properly deployed and utilized, it can become a profit multiplier for your firm.

Key Attributes.  Consider some of the capabilities you need for advanced resource planning.  First, unlike a stand-alone spreadsheet or wall chart it should be universally available and visible across all departments or offices of the firm, and accessible on mobile devices wherever a user might need information.  It should provide a view of resources in three different contexts:  Past, present, and future.  The past context is important for insight into similar past engagements, showing assignment information along with financial history about utilization, billing, and ultimately realization on the job.  The current context shows where and how staff is employed today so you can track progress against budgets and milestones and realign resources when necessary.  Finally, the future context accounts for potential new work, "soft-booking” or reserving key resources at the time they will be needed. Savvier resource planning approaches even soft-book based on the probability of winning the business.   If necessary, jobs might be rescheduled during the proposal process to take advantage of critical staff skills and availability.

What to Look For. If you are thinking about improving your resource planning approach, here are some attributes to keep in mind.  Concentrate on three basic concepts:  Simple, Flexible, and Integrated.

Simple.  In a complex world, simple is good!  The approach must be easy and straightforward, both for scheduling and for simple look-up tasks.  Complexity leads to user-abandonment, and you’ll be back where you are today– with an "expert” operator building an information empire.  Simplicity comes with efficiency, like pre-populated information or easy lookups.  Be able to rapidly single out the time period, staff, or partner you want to examine.  And make sure reports deliver critical information clearly and concisely, on-screen or in print.

Flexible.  Your firm is unlike any other, so, make you’re your approach can consider variables which are important to you.  Be able to define various attributes (skill level, niche specialty, billing tier, etc.) and assign them to staff as capabilities or to jobs as requirements.  Be able to easily search across offices and departments for staff with selected attributes.  You’ll probably want multiple levels of availability designation to tell at a glance if a staff member is definitely scheduled for a job, tentatively reserved for a pending job, away at training, or on some well-deserved personal time off. 

Connected.  Your firm’s resources are connected in some way to everything the firm does, so your resource planning approach has to be equally well connected into the firm’s operations– no stand-alone scheduling tools or custom designed spreadsheets!  This is where the past, present, and future contexts discussed above can be realized and used!  Allows planners to easily retrieve past engagements for their financial history and to see how the most profitable were organized.  See into the future to know about proposed engagements, and the likelihood of winning these.  You’ll also want to be able to see if staff members have been reserved against a specific need if and when an engagement bid is won.  And, in the present world of ongoing work, recognize which jobs are nearing completion, running ahead, or lagging behind– to know if key staff might be released early, or retained longer than anticipated.  These scenarios, of course, impact the availability of staff in both the near and far term.  Only a completed connected planning approach can deliver the views you need to make planning both more streamlined and more reliable.

Remember tools alone won’t solve your resource planning problems– along with technology comes the need for firm-wide policies and procedures which everyone must be expected to learn and follow.  Software gives you capabilities; policies, procedures, and standards move you from capabilities to results!

Next Steps | A Look Inside
Perhaps by now you are thinking that your firm’s resource planning could use some improvement.  Take a close look at how you are scheduling, planning, and managing your engagements today.  What tools are you using?  How accessible are they?  Can everyone find what they need from the system on a self-service basis, or are you forced into reports run by a scheduling expert who is the only one who really understands the system?  Does your system serve the entire firm, or is it used on a by-office or by-department basis?  Does your current system make it easier or harder to get the right person on the right job at the right time?

If after reviewing your current process you think resource planning can be improved,  look for an approach that brings your firm the attributes of simplicity, flexibility, and connectivity that we’ve discussed here.  

In today’s competitive environment, your staff skills and expertise represent your most valuable asset.  Make sure you are leveraging them to the fullest by getting the right person on the right job at the right time.  Consider modern approaches to help you satisfy your three constituencies and enjoy the benefits of delighted clients, motivated and challenged staff, and increased profits for your firm.

Tags:  resource planning 

Share |
Permalink | Comments (0)
 
Community Search
Sign In


Forgot your password?

Recent Blog Posts