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In today’s episode of ‘From the eLearning Trenches,’ we asked one of our learners to consider review the effectiveness of their firm’s workflow management systems and processes and provide suggestions for improvement.”

This Module presentation hit many a nail on the head. Our firm does not have any formal processes recorded for workflow. Workflow is the responsibility of each manager of their Team.

  • The basic process is; Work comes in from a client either via direct communication to the client manager because they have the relationship, via papers dropped off at our door (or posted) or by the principle who has had recent contact with the client that has resulted in the need for work to be done. The client manager then distributes each task to a member of their team and adds a job to the ‘Job manager” or asks me to add the job with a budget and due date. There is no formal record of when/how/who the work came in and no central follow up or checking processes.
  • Most of the Annual Service Agreements and regular quarterly jobs are now set up automatically with recurring jobs populating at key times through the year which helps well with planning and capacity and this is where the accounting team generally have access to the client’s cloud accounting systems so they can do the job without waiting on the client.
  • The Job manager should be updated regularly at the various milestones by the person doing the job. As I am responsible for the invoicing once the job is complete I often notice that the milestones have not been updated and remain on ‘Planned” or “Started” even when given to me for invoicing. This is not helpful when the principle looks at the job manager to see what is at the review stage or ready for invoicing, I know this has been a frustration for him on some occasions.
  • Most managers try to have weekly meetings with their team to check the Job status and discuss any issues, this may prompt some jobs to be updated but I can guarantee not all of them are. There are monthly manager’s meetings with the principle and the “Job Manager” is further analysed but again not always accurately updated.

Feedback from our experts:

It’s perhaps not surprising that in most cases accounting firms manage workflow on a first-in-first-out (FIFO) basis. This is the basis of a production line approach to workflow that allocates responsibility for different stages of workflow to individuals with the skills and experience to complete that stage.

At first glance, this approach seems reasonable. However, tax compliance work is generally driven by external deadlines. Both client and firm are aware of these deadlines. Inevitably, there is a backup of jobs as deadlines approach, creating significant internal pressures.

A FIFO approach to workflow does not always allow for the allocation of a steady flow of work throughout the year. As accounting firms transition from compliance to advise, partners and managers need to make the time every week to engage proactively with clients in relation to their financial needs and opportunities. This is much easier to do if workflow is scheduled.

Workflow reporting across the firm is difficult to achieve when each accountant, manager and partner has their own way of tracking workflow. Weekly team meetings can help, but this still can create a silo approach to workflow management.

Who in your firm has overall responsibility for workflow? When was the last time you reviewed the effectiveness of your workflow management systems and procedures?

This assessment task and response is taken from the Client Service Administration eLearning Course. Click here to find out more

Also take a look at our new eLearning courseThe Responsible Workflow Manager

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