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“How do you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”
That’s a clever interview question assessing an applicant’s attention to detail and communication. It also makes a good workflow example.
The answer sounds simple – the ingredients are in the name. You probably don’t even need to describe how to make it. Anyone can guess that you just grab those ingredients, and boom, you have yourself a PB&J.
Not so fast.
For starters, there are all kinds and combinations of bread, peanut butter and jelly one could choose from. Do you use two butter knives for spreading the different spreadables? How much of each ingredient is just right? And need we mention those people who spread jelly on top of the already-peanut-buttered slice of bread instead of the second, bare slice? (Hi, it’s me. I am “those people.”)
In other words, what steps do you need to explain so that anyone can end up with the same great look and taste without spending an enormous amount of time thinking and experimenting? You know from experience what gives the best bite, so don’t leave others to reinvent the wheel.
In the same vein, recording workflows is necessary for accountants and teammates to end up with the same quality of product and efficient use of time. It's critical for establishing the essential time, employees and steps it takes to take a project from start to finish while looking for ways to improve.
Workflow factors (time, employees and tasks) convert into a dollar value for the company – costs, savings and profits. The company stands to benefit (or lose) from the quality and timing of the final output.
Accounting professionals and the clients and companies they represent strive for improved efficiency and superior performance. One of the best resiliency measures a company can take is observing, documenting and continually improving its workflow. When we talk about workflow, we are talking about the set of repetitive tasks broken down into smaller steps that result in duplicated and repeatable outcomes.
● Sets standards and patterns. Those who have the experience to know what has worked best can leave a trail of breadcrumbs for their team to accomplish.
● Maximizes productivity and reduces costs. Eliminate redundancy and time spent strategizing, especially with newer accountants or employees. Swifter turnaround times for completed products along with fewer mistakes results in decreased costs and increased profits.
● Improves customer satisfaction. You’ll be able to deliver reliable, trustworthy and timely customer experiences over and over again. That will earn you repeat business and referrals.
Step 1: Construct a model of your present accounting workflow procedure to help you identify critical steps and make improvements. Include a checklist of necessary tasks, the resources needed to complete the action and the person responsible.
Don’t worry about having a perfect procedure in the beginning. Document what you can. Then, revise it as you use it and uncover missing steps.
Step 2: Assess your current workflow and do audits on automation. Use your workflow and revise it as you get better and learn more. Evaluate where automated technology could relieve manual repetitive and impersonal tasks. Determine if you can further utilize your current tech stack or if you need alternative solutions. Search for integrated software solutions as much as possible.
Furthermore, assess the security of your technology. Automated (or manual) workflow platforms must ensure the safety and privacy of company and client information. It should be easy to create and use. Communication must be effortless and secure between team members and external clients.
Step 3: Utilize artificial intelligence in bank reconciliation and data entry to minimize the possibility of human error. These two tasks are repetitive, impersonal and prone to human error. Technology can handle menial jobs and equip accountants with more accurate data. Accountants will have more time to focus on consumer needs.
Step 4: Assist employees in devoting their attention and energy to business growth. With less data entry and administrative tasks, employees can use their vast knowledge, experience and talents to analyze data, predict outcomes and work in consulting capacities for the company or client.
Outlining your accounting workflow is a simple idea with a significant financial impact. Identify and document your steps within processes, so that: 1) training employees is more straightforward, 2) service and results remain consistent and 3) efficiency and productivity are ever-improving.
In accounting and finance professions, it’s critical to stay as agile and sharp as possible to quickly pivot with economic, regulatory, technological and environmental changes (to name a few). Changes like these have considerable financial and strategic impacts. Choose the right finance and accounting continuing education courses to stay prepared for all life can throw your way.
National and local-level accounting membership organizations hold tremendous value for their subscribers. For example, the Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA) offers hours of high-quality CPA CPE self-study and online courses. This ongoing learning helps members adapt to fast-paced changes quickly. Consider a membership to a professional organization like the OSCPA to stay prepared.