• Arianna Campbell, Shareholder

3 Key Lean Improvements

As we head into another busy season, many firm leaders are finalizing an implementing the changes they have made since last year with an eye toward improving efficiency, capacity, consistency and ultimately, client value – essentially implementing Lean Six Sigma.

If you’re already working in a Lean firm, then you’re currently working in a culture of continuous improvement. If not, well first you should know that your firm has already fallen behind. Once you recover from that realization, take a look at the three key Lean improvements that you need to make in your firm.

Automate workflow

Every accounting firm has a workflow, but for some, it doesn’t work or flow very well. This is especially true when the firm relies on paper routing sheets to move work.

If your firm is still using paper routing sheets (or spreadsheets), it’s time to give automated workflow tools a look. Automated workflow tools eliminate the need to manually move files throughout your office, provide instant access to client information and deadlines, and reduce anxiety and stress during the busy season for all professionals and administrative staff.

Everyone in the firm has instant access to the status of their client’s work instead of having to track down status updates via email, phone or in person.

With this information at your fingertips, your firm can spend more time on data analysis rather than data collection. The result is increased productivity and the ability to focus on more strategic imperatives.

Control your WIP

Once you have an automated workflow solution, you can deal with the next problem that is bogging your firm down: WIP. Think of all the work in your firm right now that is just waiting for the next step to be taken. If you’re not controlling WIP, it gets out of control and creates chaos.

If your firm tracks billable hours and does not reward employees for completing projects, you probably have trouble controlling WIP. It’s too easy for people to put the problem projects aside and pick up something new.

Progress billing may help mitigate some of the cash flow issues associated with runaway WIP, but it doesn’t really solve the problem. It’s better just to get the work done – you’ll collect your full fee sooner, and your clients will appreciate the faster turnaround time.

Level loading

Level loading workload means balancing production, so the spikes are significantly reduced. This requires delegating and leveraging in-charges, seniors, supervisors and managers to give them more opportunities for client contact and running engagements.

When you properly leverage work to people at the right levels, you are continuously challenging and growing your people.

  • Staff accountants are given more complex work as they progress

  • Seniors are dipping their toes into reviewing

  • Reviewers are doing less prep work and taking on more client management responsibilities

  • Partners are developing new opportunities with current and potential clients.

Simply put, all members of your team are being put to their highest and best use.

If your firm is experiencing delays in completing jobs, responding to client requests or if poor communication is causing unnecessary mistakes, you have poor processes that are affecting client service and satisfaction. It’s time to improve your processes and maximize your talent and resources using Lean Six Sigma. Remember, progress requires change, and if you never change, you’ll never progress.