When an accounting firm’s workflow management process is set up right, it supports the creation of smooth and seamless processes. The clue is in the name, and I think there's nothing better than when one task flows into the next without any friction.
But many firms unintentionally hamper this accounting firm workflow process. How?
They avoid standardising their workflows. Yet, a lack of standardisation can be a problem for firms.
When your team lacks clear guidelines to follow, whether they’re for internal operations or external client management, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to deliver quality work consistently. This lack of direction can demotivate your team, reduce productivity and lead to errors. All of this can end up hurting your clients and your bottom line.
However, you don’t want to sleepwalk into standardising your firm’s workflows. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, which means your approach should be unique to your firm and its clients.
So, what can you do?
5 approaches to workflow standardisation
While there’s no one correct way to standardise your firm’s workflows, there are several strategies worth considering.
Let’s look at the best ways to standardise workflows.
Accounting firm workflow management software
Workflow management tools help you create standardised paths that outline how to complete a task or process, guiding team members step-by-step. These tools offer many features that help standardise workflows, such as task allocation, pre-built templates that you can adapt to work with your processes and automated reminders.
Cloud-based management tools are excellent for monitoring progress on accounts, which is especially valuable if your teams work across several clients at once
Using a workflow management tool to build your workflows means you can centralise your firm’s processes and make adhering to best practices as simple as possible.
The pros of accounting workflow management software
- Centralised data — all tasks, project files, and client and coworker communication are easily accessible from one place.
- Reduced errors — workflow management software can automate tasks, such as data entry, minimising the risk of error.
- Enhanced transparency — create a more transparent environment with improved collaboration, centralised data, and project allocation.
The cons of accounting workflow management software
- Lengthy initial setup — there is always an upfront time investment required when implementing new technology. I think it’s worth it in the long run.
- Continuous education — training is integral to the smooth adoption of new technology, which means making sure every team member is educated on how to use these tools, using additional time and resources.
The McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that around 50% of accounting tasks can be automated. This means your team members can focus their energy on more complex tasks, such as servicing high-value clients.
Automation is a powerful tool, and its benefits rely heavily on data standardisation. For example, let’s consider financial data standardisation. You can automate much of the handling process if you create a procedure for collecting and reporting your clients’ financial data. You don’t need to manually enter every single figure, saving a huge amount of time.
The pros of workflow automation
- Saves time on admin — valuable resources can be used on more valuable tasks.
- Accurate insights — automation can help firms create more accurate predictions and gather valuable insights.
- Less supervision — once set up, automation can happily run in the background, reducing the need for supervision and micromanagement.
- Improved consistency — when workflows are automated, they’re instantly standardised, leading to better consistency by removing the risk of human error.
The cons of workflow automation
- Loss of flexibility — automation works best when there is no need for flexibility. If you need to steer away from your standardised workflow for any reason, such as a client making an ad-hoc request, you must take additional steps to amend or pause the automation.
- Reliance on technology — being too reliant on technology can lead firms to lose their human touch and result in complacency. Be careful not to fall into these traps.
Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are another excellent way to enhance workflow. While you can’t automate every task, you can speed up the process of completing them with SOPs.
SOPs are written instructions and guidelines that outline how to solve common issues or complete recurring tasks.
The pros of SOPs
- Deliver consistent quality — when you have clear procedures to follow, you reduce the risk of team members making mistakes and ensure consistency of work delivered across the firm.
- Increased efficiency — SOPs lead team members to find solutions to their problems faster.
- Improves productivity — less time spent on mundane tasks or finding solutions means team members can spend more time completing client work.
- Boosts your financial growth — your team completes more billable hours due to this heightened productivity, raising your recovery rate.
The pros of SOPs
- Decreased creativity — there is less opportunity for your team to use creative licence when solving problems or servicing clients.
- Time-consuming initial setup — any new technology requires setting up, which takes time and can mean a period of downtime.
Files. Emails. Reports. The management of everything can seem endless at times!
From client agreements to year-end reports, there are countless documents and communications your team will produce each day. But disorganised workflow management can make it near impossible to guarantee this is consistent across the firm.
That’s why it’s important to make sure your communications use standardised formats. You can achieve this standardisation through templating.
You can template everything from frequently sent emails, like follow-ups to clients, to documentation, including invoices, ledgers and balance sheets. In fact, you can even template your workflows.
The pros of templating
- Consistent data filing — indexing information is easier because everyone uses the same templates.
- Team member efficiency — your team needn’t spend time thinking about how to gather or present information.
- Repeatability — replicating your templates across the business is simple once you begin the process.
- Compliance — templating can help your firm adhere to accounting standards.
The pros and cons of templating
- No room to manoeuvre — you might find templates ill-suited for certain occasions, which can be limiting when you take on ad-hoc requests.
- Data fragmentation — templates alone don’t guarantee your structured data is used correctly and passed on as needed.
Broad approach versus personalisation
Chances are, you’ve heard of personalisation. However, the debate over personalisation versus broad standardisation can be heated. There are two extremes to the pendulum:
A broad approach to standardisation means you give set guidelines for everything. Your team has a framework and works within it — come what may.
On the other end of the pendulum is personalisation, based on client needs, category and request complexity. To take personalisation to the extreme, you would tailor each workflow for each client, the account team members, and any other moving element.
But the pendulum doesn’t have to swing from one end to another. You can find a balance between the two approaches.
In reality, specific processes are much more efficient with a rigid framework. Standardisation reduces friction and uncertainty. Yet you still need to adjust accordingly. Your clients have different needs, and an excellent standardised process can always respond to changes.
Finding the right approach to standardisation for your firm: accounting firm workflow management
Standardisation shouldn’t be confused with monotony. There is always room to be innovative, and you can adapt workflows based on client needs. The end goal is simply to eliminate inefficiency and conflict while allowing team members to be creative.
There is no one way to approach standardisation, meaning you can be creative in finding the right approach for your firm. Whichever methods you opt for, you should make sure these align with your firm’s unique values, long-term goals and strategy.
While this may feel overwhelming, I recommend beginning by focusing on the process most critical to your firm and then working outwards once you’ve found your feet. You will know you’re doing it right when your team members feel supported, productivity is on the rise, and best practices are being adhered to.
This will free team members up to focus on making improvements across the board, as they’ll likely begin to identify new problems and processes ripe for optimisation.
How Pixie can help standardise your accounting firm’s workflow management
Pixie offers a huge range of tools built to help firms maximise work consistency by standardising workflows. Pixie has everything you need to standardise your firm’s workflows, from templated workflows that support automated task creation, checklists, and reminders to task management capabilities.
Standardised workflow management means a happier and more efficient workplace. So, put the flow into your firm’s workflow with standardisation.