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In today’s episode of ‘From the eLearning Trenches,’ we asked one of our learners, a senior manager in public practice, to consider what they could do differently to better manage their workflow, especially in relation to throughput.

Learner Reflection

As I mentioned in the previous assessment question, the firm I work for has significantly changed the process in which workflow is managed and this has significantly affected how I manage my own workflow, as direction is provider at the firm level instead of a team level.

I find that my biggest challenge is that I prioritise other jobs and assisting others in completing their tasks and my reviews of their jobs – first of all – before attending to my own needs and jobs.  I do this due to my personality type and to ensure they (the other staff) keep their momentum with that job, and it gets out the door as quickly as possible. This is particularly important in my mind as the staff I tend to mostly work with are part time, and do not work the full time (extended) hours like I do. Further, I hate the thought that other staff are waiting on me for guidance on a job.

This is obviously at the detriment of my own individual tasks, which I know I have improved on recently, but there is still work to be done to consistently improve this.

The programs implemented at the firm to manage workflow currently are Xero Practice Manager (XPM) and we also use the Task Function in FYI Docs for the broken-down tasks (smaller aspects) in compliance jobs.  However, I also at the same time have my own to do list which I manage through Mac Notes which gets updated weekly for other jobs I am working on; within this though – I do not set hard and fast due dates (or even start dates for that matter), and then this allows other jobs/tasks creep in throughout the week.

I believe that potentially having un-interruptible time (not looking at emails or other tasks pop through) and having my ‘door closed’ to focus on these ‘dragging longer tasks’ will assist in keeping my workflow under control; and clear items more efficiently. I should also look into other apps that could help me at a personal level manage my tasks and set schedule start dates and due dates (with reminders potentially); rather than Mac Notes/checklists.

The changes internally at the firm have meant that we have pulled apart the way we did things like workflow historically, and accordingly, have identified bottlenecks, inefficiencies and areas of improvement.  Items such as introducing further standardised templates on tasks in FYI as well as a more effective resource allocation with our staff have meant workflow and job through-put are achieved more efficiently.  This in particular saves time which in an accountant shortage in Australia, means I as a manager am not reinventing the wheel on mundane items, and it reduces data entry/typing.

Feedback from our experts

The learner (manager) responding to this question has identified some key challenges in the prioritisation of their tasks. It can be very challenging when team members are waiting on feedback before proceeding and other tasks are also urgent. Effective time management is an essential part of personal leadership for any member of an accounting or advisory team. One way to address this is to engage the team in a ‘team huddle’ at the commencement of the day, to identify any specific issues and concerns. Team members should be able to work on jobs without constantly interrupting their manager with queries. This learner has identified the need to set aside some time each day for personal work priorities without interruption. This is a completely reasonable step to get some control over the work environment.

The learner has also identified the firm’s need for a centralised workflow management and reporting system as the firm has grown. Without a ‘single source of truth’ in relation to workflow, it can be very challenging to identify bottlenecks in capacity or process. Managers and accountants often have individualistic ways of managing their work which may not necessarily be consistent with the way the firm wants them to complete work. Consistency in workflow management is essential as firms grow, otherwise internal inefficiencies will develop.

Below are some key steps that partners and managers should consider to reduce or eliminate the pickup and put down of work that contributes to delays in getting work completed.

  1. Delays in Starting Work Due to Waiting on Client Information
  • Proactive Client Communication: Implement a system of regular, proactive communication with clients to request necessary documents well before the start of work. This could include automated reminders and a checklist of required information sent to clients.
  • Client Portals: Utilize secure client portals for document exchange, allowing clients to upload documents at their convenience and enabling the firm to start work immediately once documents are received.
  • Educational Initiatives: Offer guidance and educational resources to clients on the importance of timely information sharing and how it impacts their service outcomes.
  1. Changing Priorities When Urgent Matters Take Over
  • Priority Management System: Develop a clear system for prioritizing tasks that allows for urgent matters to be integrated into the workflow without completely derailing existing projects. This might involve daily or weekly team meetings to adjust priorities based on current needs.
  • Flexible Resource Allocation: Maintain a flexible team structure where staff can be reallocated to urgent tasks as needed, ensuring that critical deadlines are met without significantly impacting other projects.
  1. Delays Waiting for Manager or Partner to Respond to Internal Queries
  • Internal Knowledge Base: Create an internal knowledge base or FAQ resource that staff can refer to for common queries, reducing dependency on managers or partners for every question.
  • Scheduled Check-ins: Implement scheduled check-ins or “office hours” where staff can bring forward queries and issues for discussion, ensuring that waiting for responses does not hold up work unnecessarily.
  • Empowerment and Training: Empower employees through additional training and clear guidelines that allow them to make decisions within certain parameters without always needing higher-level approval.
  1. Delays in Review of Work as It’s Being Completed
  • Staggered Review Process: Adopt a staggered review process where work is reviewed at multiple stages, not just at the end. This approach can help identify and correct issues early, preventing bottlenecks at the final review stage.
  • Peer Review: Implement a peer review system to distribute the review workload more evenly and reduce bottlenecks caused by waiting for a single reviewer.
  1. Challenges with Managing Workflow in Periods of High Demand from Clients
  • Advanced Planning and Forecasting: Use historical data to predict periods of high demand and plan resources accordingly. This might involve hiring temporary staff or reallocating resources to ensure that the firm can handle the workload.
  • Workflow Management Tools: Invest in workflow management tools that provide real-time visibility into the status of tasks and projects, allowing for better allocation of resources and identification of bottlenecks.
  • Client Education and Communication: Work with clients to manage expectations during peak periods, including realistic timelines and the importance of early information submission.

Key takeaway: Addressing delays in the completion of work within an accounting firm is crucial for maintaining high levels of client satisfaction and operational efficiency.

This assessment task and response is taken from the Path to Partnership eLearning course (assessment task 1.2. Click here to explore this course

Also, take a look at the Responsible Workflow Manager eLearning Course

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