We all know how busy this time of year is. You and your team are dealing with high-pressure deadlines and client demands and hoping the new processes and technology you implemented ahead of busy season run smoothly.
Most firms will put process improvement on hold for the next few months. But did you know that despite the chaos around your office, continuous improvement can remain an integral part of your day?
Don't worry—I'm not suggesting you need to add hours of work to your already-packed schedule. So let's explore some steps you can take over the next few months to keep your firm on the path of continuous improvement, even when workloads are high and deadlines are looming.
Take notes on what's working and what isn't working
Designate a place to take notes about what's working and what isn't this busy season—whether you keep a paper notebook handy, use a notes app on your phone, or a document on your laptop. Even better, have a firm- or department-wide repository for these notes to collect information from all levels and roles.
What aspect of your client-facing technology or processes did clients complain about? What manual steps did you have to do over and over again? Where did communication break down? What steps in your processes pose a data security risk for the firm or its clients? What processes were inconsistent between teams or from office to office?
Don't focus solely on tools and software. Consider processes and people, too. And take a big-picture approach that includes:
Collecting, scanning, and organizing client information
The engagement workflow and passing of projects or tasks between team members
Assembling, e-filing, and delivering the final product
Billing and collections
Remember the nine categories of waste
In our process improvement engagements, we help firms identify waste—activities that don't add value from the client's point of view, resulting in decreased profitability, lost capacity, and longer cycle times.
These wasteful activities call into nine categories:
Defects include mistakes like transposing numbers, entering incorrect information and not following procedures and quality guidelines.
Overproduction happens when you do more work than necessary. Examples include significant time spent on returns that will be going on extension anyway or prioritizing the wrong projects.
Waiting is defined as any non-value add time for which value-added productive output is not being performed. Most commonly, this is caused by time spent between touches during a process.
Not utilizing people's talents is a common issue in the profession. For example, the firm wastes resources when higher-skilled people perform lower-skilled work. Other examples are not maximizing staff strengths and failing to cultivate staff ideas for improvement.
Transporting is waste from passing paper files and information from person to person instead of utilizing technology to automate workflows and other firm processes.
Inventory sounds like retail terminology, but this also applies to your engagements. It is best to keep your inventory from getting stale. WIP and backlogs in email inboxes create bottlenecks and decreased throughput.
Motion is the result of scavenger hunts for information. Efforts are wasted by searching through poorly named digital files or digging through poorly organized, overfilled physical files.
Excess Processing is doing more work than the client values or is willing to pay for. Examples include over-auditing or correcting client bookkeeping before gaining permission.
Attitude is the final and most significant category of waste. Negative attitudes, poor morale and refusal to follow guidelines and procedures impede firm processes and progress.
While you go through your day-to-day responsibilities over the next couple of months, keep these categories of waste in mind. When you spot them in your processes, add them to your notes so you can focus on eliminating them after busy season.
Prepare to filter out clients that aren't the right fit
As you work with clients this time of year, you may realize some of them aren't the right fit for your firm or where it's headed. You might not want to fire/filter them out in the middle of busy season, but take note of who doesn't meet your criteria.
Revenue is an easy place to start, but it shouldn't be the only criteria you consider. Also look at whether:
The client utilizes multiple services
They appreciate you and follow your advice (are coachable)
They pay promptly and willingly
They put the firm at risk
They engage you for services that enhance the firm's capabilities
They refer other good clients
Schedule your busy season post-mortem
Many firms go through an after-tax-season-review process but fail to address all pain points because they've forgotten many frustrations by the time they get around to meeting.
Ideally, you should schedule this debriefing within two weeks of the tax filing deadline to discuss your pain points while the experience is fresh in everyone's minds. With the notes you've taken on process breakdowns, wasteful activities and non-right-fit clients, this meeting between firm and IT leaders can be invaluable for making post-busy-season process and technology decisions.
Remember, no company is ever "finished" in its journey of refining processes, and firms can always find ways to improve. During busy season, these improvements might seem like a distant dream. However, there is always room for improvement — even when you feel like you have no more energy or brainpower to give. Taking some initiative to document your pain points now will allow progress to resume at full speed ahead after April 15th.
Are you ready to become a process improvement leader in your firm?
Boomer Consulting's Lean Six Sigma CPA Green Belt Certification has helped hundreds of CPA firm professionals implement the framework they need to create lasting process improvement in their firms. Register now so you can begin confidently leading change within your firm.
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.