In today’s world, accounting departments run lean. Asked to do more with less, accountants are being pushed to the max. Since adding staff is usually not an option, here are seven ways to lighten accounting’s workload.
Conduct process walk-throughs. Meet with process owners and gain an understanding of how their work gets done to uncover opportunities for improvement. You don’t need to build fancy flowcharts or document every step. Obtain a thorough understanding of the end-to-end process by speaking to all process participants regardless of their department.
Challenge every step, every piece of paper, every input and every output. Chances are you will find inefficient and unnecessary work. (See the process walk-through checklist below.)
Use best practices. Implementation of accounting best practices can significantly reduce your department’s workload while improving accuracy, cycle time, response time, data quality and employee morale. It can also improve Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.
Take advantage of unused system functionality. If you are using any of the mid-to-large-size accounting software packages, chances are you are not using it to its potential. Often the software is capable of a requested function, but it may require some work. What usually never gets past the discussion phase is a calculation of cost vs. benefit. A five-month project may be worth the effort if it eliminates enough ongoing work.
You don’t have to be a systems expert or know how to implement software. You simply need to understand what the vendor included as delivered functionality. That information should be available from vendor-provided documentation.
Conduct process training. After completing your process walk-throughs, evaluate the need for staff training. Most organizations send staff to professional development classes and provide systems training; however, rarely do organizations provide training on how to properly accomplish day-today activities. To varying degrees, especially at the lower levels, employees don’t work at peak efficiency or don’t fully take advantage of the systems they use. Significant productivity improvements can be achieved by providing appropriate training.
Develop system “super users.” Functions such as creating queries, writing detailed reports, responding to routine questions or identifying unused system functionality are skills that can be managed by accounting. Find the individuals in your department who have a talent or affinity for systems work, and take advantage of it. Partner with your IT department and develop a training plan for your super users. In most cases a combination of one or two training classes along with some hand-holding by IT is all they require.
Establish process metrics. Develop process metrics to measure your department’s productivity. Metrics should be easy to understand and available for everyone to see. You can use them to compare activity to prior periods or externally as a benchmark to other organizations. Check your accounting system. Many systems provide hundreds of predefined process metrics. (See sample process metrics below.)
Reward success. No initiative to improve accounting can be successful without recognizing the efforts of the people involved. Reward significant contributors. While monetary rewards are appreciated, often people are happy to simply be recognized.
—By Tom Sonde, CPA, (firstname.lastname@example.org) the principal of New Jersey-based SilverRoad Solutions.
Process Walk-through Checklist of Questions to Ask
Question Every Activity - Always Ask Why
- Is the step or process necessary?
- Does it add value?
- Can it be eliminated?
- Is it labor intensive?
- Can it be automated?
- How accurate is the data?
- How many people participate in the process?
- Does it take excessive time to complete?
- Are too many handoffs occurring?
- Is there a duplication of effort?
- Is the output necessary?
- Is anyone using the output?
- How often do they use it?
- Is the input necessary?
- Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined?
- Are roles and responsibilities appropriate?
- What is slowing down the process?
- Are there needless reviews or approvals required?
- Is the physical piece of paper necessary?
- Is anyone performing similar tasks?
- Is the same data being keyed into multiple places? (For example, the accounting system, an Access database, spreadsheets, etc.)
- Does a backlog exist?
- How often are deadlines missed?
- What are the routine “fire drills”?
- How are they initiated?
- Who/what causes them?
- How accurate are the inputs/outputs?
- What are the busiest times of the day, week, month and/or quarter?
Sample Process Metrics
- Number of invoices processed
- Number of check requests processed
- Number of lines of data entered into the system
- Number of A/P checks issued
- Number of recurring payments
- Number of incoming voucher errors
- Missing or incorrect account coding
- Missing documentation
- Lacking proper approvals
- Number of invoices requiring adjustment after being input in the system
- Cycle Time – number of days
- Invoice date to approval date
- Approval date to receipt by A/P
- Receipt by A/P to payment
- Number of payment templates setup in the system
- Number of invoices received electronically
- Number of payments made electronically
- Number of vendors listed in the vendor master file
- Number of manually processed A/P checks
- Number of voided A/P checks
- Number of checks requiring a manual signature
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