The sagging economy and the pressure to go “green” are prompting firms to become more efficient. Whenever you make staffing changes, set new goals or tighten your budget, you have an opportunity to reassess workflow, enhance technology or improve productivity. Consider the following ways to lower expenses and increase profitability:
Determine the scope of your process-improvement project.
Do you want to review all functions and processes within the firm or concentrate primarily on one? For example, an area in your firm that has lost a key player provides an excellent opportunity to refine procedures or use technology for process improvement. New software may help achieve productivity gains.
Pick a project champion. Depending upon the size of your firm, the champion may be you or someone else with decision-making and budget-approval authority. Then select team members from all levels involved in the workflow process to be overhauled. Include owners, managers and staff, along with administrative and information technology (IT) specialists fluent in hardware requirements and software availability. The IT specialist can help identify opportunities to reduce costs through better use of technology.
Gain support. Good communication is necessary to gain buy-in from everyone affected by the changes. How do you plan to communicate why process improvement is needed (for example, to increase efficiency, productivity and profitability) and how the project will affect your staff (for example, by providing remote-access options or improved technology skills)? How will you reassure workers of job security?
Develop a process-improvement goal. Is your goal to cut payroll? Reduce errors and rework? Improve client services? Be specific about your goals.
Identify what you already do. Review the current workflow for the process being overhauled. Use input from all staff who contribute to the process (so you won’t inadvertently miss a step). Document every step from start to finish. Note all exceptions to the general rules.
Detail how each step is currently done. What equipment and software are currently used? Who is doing the work? How is work being passed on to the next step in the process?
Challenge the importance of each step. Once the “what” and “how” of each step are detailed, assess if the step is necessary or can be done differently.
Develop new workflow options. Once you understand the current process and its problem areas, develop and evaluate workflow option(s). Evaluate each option against your process-improvement goal. How will proposed processes and technology recommendations affect those involved? What costs are involved? What savings will be realized? What is the projected payback from technology investment? Select the option that best achieves your goals.
Document the new process and procedures. Many people are visual learners. Include diagrams and/or flow charts, which will be used for training.
Provide training. Define the responsibilities of each individual involved in the work process and the skills and experience needed to meet expectations. Assess staff capabilities to perform the new workflow and use new technology. Provide training as needed.
Implement. Communicate your expectations for successful implementation. When will the new process be launched and fully implemented? How will its success be measured? How frequently will the new process be evaluated? Who will be responsible for monitoring it?
—By Timothy S. Shortsleeve, CPA/CITP, president of LTP Solutions LLC, a process-improvement and efficiency consulting firm based in Rochester, N.Y. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He is making a presentation on workflow analysis at the 2009 AICPA TECH+ Conference in Las Vegas, June 14–17, and at the AICPA Small Business Practitioner’s Tax Conference in Seattle, July 12–14.