5 Ways to Leverage Lean Beyond Compliance
By now, most accounting professionals are at least somewhat familiar with Lean Six Sigma, a strategy that focuses on increasing efficiency while improving the quality of your work by eliminating wasteful practices.
When firms are first introduced to Lean Six Sigma, their initial interest is usually on compliance processes. Client accounting services, tax returns and audits have traditionally taken up a large percentage of the time professionals and administrative staff spend on a firm, so these areas offer clear opportunities to uncover inefficiencies and quality control issues.
But the value of Lean Six Sigma doesn’t end with a firm’s compliance processes. As anyone who has spent time in a modern accounting firm knows, changing client expectations and technology have shifted the core activities in firms. While your team likely still spends a lot of time on compliance work, you may also perform consulting and advisory services. And of course, there are always the tasks that keep the firm running behind the scenes.
We’ve seen firms realize significant gains from leveraging Lean on these behind-the-scenes tasks. Whether or not you’ve undergone a Lean Six Sigma process improvement project on your compliance practices, applying the methodology to the following areas:
When we survey firms to discover their problem areas when it comes to back-office processes, billing is always the #1 response.
Which of these potentially wasteful practices does your firm have in its billing processes:
Allowing staff to write down their time and then transfer their written record to the practice management system on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis
Sending invoices to clients on a month-end basis
Writing personal cover letters to accompany invoices
Requiring that invoices go through multiple layers of review before being sent out
Inefficient billing processes slow down cash flow, negatively affect accounts receivable and can have a huge impact on the financial health of the firm.
Lean can help ensure you have the right people at the right level preparing and reviewing invoices, get invoices into your clients’ hands faster and keep your firm’s cash flow healthy.
Engagement letters are our contracts with clients. They help manage client expectations and liability. Yet many firms struggle to get engagement letters prepared and sent to the client and receive a signed engagement letter back on time. Often, teams start work assuming the signed engagement letter will come in before the job is complete, and occasionally hand deliverables over to the client before realizing they don’t have a signed engagement letter.
Lean can help your firm leverage technology that generated a formatted engagement letter rather than having staff members draft engagement letters from scratch for each job, deliver engagement letters to the client as one of the earliest steps in the engagement, and ensure you have a signed engagement letter in hand at the right time. This will give your firm better control over pricing, the scope of work and liability on every engagement.
Employee engagement is a priority for most firms, and it begins before a new hire shows up for their first day on the job as part of the onboarding process. Yet, there are many moving parts in the onboarding process between HR, IT, facilities, and training. It involves many people and requires a lot of communication.
Unfortunately, there is also a lot of opportunity for waste. People show up for their first day at a new job to find workstations aren’t ready for them, they don’t have the necessary programs or passwords, and it seems as though nobody has the time to show them the ropes or even answer questions.
Lean can help your firm get employees on board quickly and easily by ensuring that everyone involves in onboarding understands their role and deadlines. When you make an efficient, positive first impression on a new hire, your talent will feel welcome and engaged from day one, and they can become productive much faster.
Most firms recognize the importance of employee onboarding – even if they don’t always give it the attention it deserves. However, we’ve noticed few firms pay enough attention to employee offboarding.
Employee offboarding isn’t just about making a departing employee feel good, but about ensuring minimal disruption and protecting your firm. There are enormous opportunities for data loss and security breaches if you don’t shut down access to your firm’s systems and resources when an employee leaves.
With Lean, you can have a process for offboarding that includes:
Getting the proper documentation on file
Having your IT team make access changes
Ensuring clients experience uninterrupted service
Recovering company equipment and assets, such as credit cards, keys and laptops
Letting your team know about the departure before the rumor mill takes over
Client onboarding, like employee onboarding, sets the tone for your future working relationship with a client. If you can delight your clients from the first moment, you have a better chance of expanding the services they buy from you, gaining referrals and keeping that client long-term. If your onboarding process leaves them confused, overwhelmed or feeling neglected, it will be a very different story.
Lean can help your firm ensure it’s easy for clients to provide the info you need to get started, ensure clients are set up in the right systems promptly, and ensure you get the client relationship started with the right person at the right time.
By the end of your client onboarding process, your clients will feel confident that you can address their concerns, you can make sure nobody on your team drops the ball and you’ll be able to keep more clients.
Each of these areas has several opportunities for waste and inefficiency, which means they also have the potential to be transformed by Lean Six Sigma. Most firms look for ways to automate steps in these processes with technology. There are tools out there today that can help create significant efficiencies, but you cannot automate an inconsistent process. By applying the Lean methodology to these areas, you’ll realize a better return on your technology investments, start doing more work with the same resources and give your team the opportunity to grow their skills rather than spending hours of there days on inefficient, routine tasks.
Does your firm need help evolving its business model?
We can help your firm develop a phased and systematic approach through positive transformation. Schedule a Discovery Call with one of our Solutions Advisors and get on the path to take new and improved services to the marketplace.
Amanda Wilkie, Consultant at Boomer Consulting, Inc., has a computer science background, but she’s not your average geek. With two decades of technology experience, Amanda has spent 13 years driving change and process improvement through innovative technology solutions working across firms of varying sizes in the public accounting profession. She has held strategic leadership positions in firms ranging from Top 50 to Top 10 including her most recent role as CIO of a Top 30 firm. Amanda is a recognized expert in the profession who regularly speaks and writes on blockchain and cryptocurrency and their impact on the profession.