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The Evolving Role of Project Management in CPA Firms

The professionals in accounting firms are no strangers to engagement management—setting up timelines for client deliverables, effectively managing client expectations, and ensuring they never miss a deadline. 

Now, more firms are recognizing the importance of project management in driving efficiency and success. But what is project management? How does it differ from engagement management? And what project management tools should firms use to track projects and hold team members accountable? 


Defining project management in an accounting firm 

The Project Management Institute defines a project as “a series of structured tasks, activities, and deliverables that are carefully executed to achieve a desired outcome.” 

Firms might refer to managing client engagements as project management, but engagement management is primarily client-focused and revolves around routinely delivering client services. While different engagements might have unique aspects, they usually have a common deliverable: a tax return, a financial statement, a strategic plan, etc. 

Project management encompasses a broader scope and projects with a clear beginning and end. They’re not part of the firm’s routine operations and might include people who don’t usually work together. 

The growing role of project management 

The complexity and scale of operations in modern firms have led to the creation of special roles for managing diverse projects. Firms are increasingly recognizing the need for dedicated project managers to handle initiatives such as: 


  • Implementing new HR tools 

  • Process improvements 

  • Technology upgrades 

  • Office relocations 

  • Mergers and acquisitions, and more. 


Skills of an effective project manager 

Managing projects requires many of the same skills as managing client engagements. While they don’t need accounting experience, a proficient project manager needs: 


  • Organizational skills. Exceptional ability to plan, prioritize and manage resources. 

  • Communication. Clear and effective communication with stakeholders at all levels. 

  • Influence. Persuading and motivating team members and stakeholders to achieve project goals. 

  • Positive attitude. Proactive, enthusiastic, and motivated to manage stress and juggle multiple deadlines.

If you’re hiring a new project manager, it can be helpful to select your project management tool first and then look for a project manager who is familiar with that tool. 

Tools for standardizing project management 

For decades, firms relied on email and spreadsheets to manage projects, but this is wildly outdated and inefficient today. 

Many project management platforms exist to help firms keep track of projects, including Asana, Smart Sheets, and For firms using Microsoft 365, Microsoft Planner is an excellent starting point. It’s included in a Microsoft 365 subscription and integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft applications, providing a familiar environment for users. 

No matter which tool a firm uses, it should facilitate: 

  • Transparency. Real-time visibility into project status and who is responsible for what. 

  • Tracking tasks and subtasks. Projects often have tasks and subtasks, each with a start date, duration, and end date, which may be assigned to multiple team members. 

  • Issue identification. Quick identification of roadblocks and potential risks of the project getting off track. 

  • Deadline tracking. Monitoring progress to ensure timely completion. 

  • Support for remote and hybrid teams. Provide clarity on tasks and deliverables without face-to-face interaction between team members. 

  • Reporting. Modern tools can provide data to help create better estimates and timelines for future projects. 


Integrating project management into your firm is a strategic move toward greater efficiency and effectiveness. By distinguishing it from engagement management and using the right tools and skills, firms can better support their internal operations and team members.  


Could your firm benefit from getting firm management and IT leaders in alignment? 

The Boomer Technology Circles are a peer group of firm and technology leaders in the accounting profession who benefit from aligning IT and firm strategy and building valuable long-term relationships with solution providers and peers. Apply now to start building confidence in your firm’s technology decisions.


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.


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