With 2021 still relatively young, many accounting firm owners and leaders would like to birth new initiatives before the year ends. It may be a process you've undergone many times, but this year will be different. COVID-19 didn't disappear when the calendar changed from 2020 or even when a new president was inaugurated.
Depending on the launch date for your project, it will be developed and debuted in an environment that's at least partially virtual. That presents new challenges but also unique opportunities.
Forming, testing, and launching a new endeavor under current circumstances can be just as fruitful as ever, provided you account for the scenario. Starting an initiative today isn't the same as adding new tech when the pandemic control measures first hit. You don't have to rush to something workable as quickly as possible.
What you do have, however, is what you learned during the past year, wisdom you should use to inform your process going forward. The pandemic has revealed a lot about how business operates, and those lessons shouldn't be forgotten.
One of those lessons is that virtual interactions are here to stay. Even when they aren't required as a public health measure, many companies will retain work-from-home options. Similarly, some clients will never want to return to a world where they have to travel to your office for meetings. We may change from virtual-required to virtual-optional, but there's no putting the cat back in the bag.
Tip 1: Pick the proper delivery method
As such, my first tip when developing a new initiative in a virtual environment is to always keep delivery in mind. Whether we're talking about a new service for clients or a fresh program for team members, you have to ask yourself how people will interact with this development. It will take months for vaccines to create herd immunity, so now is not the time to schedule in-person classes for your team. Nobody should feel like taking part in something novel and exciting should also come with increased risk to their health. For client-facing projects, the same rule applies. From day zero onward, you have to be thinking of virtual delivery options.
Tip 2: Expect a testing test process
The next thing to remember when working on something new in a virtual environment is that testing will be longer and messier than ever. Not only will you be dealing with all the testing and iterating that normally accompanies a new process, but you'll have to do so across physical distance. With more variables comes more failed experiments, but that failure shouldn't be reason to fret. Ultimately, it may lead you to a better solution than you would've discovered otherwise. Don't let frustration or hiccups deter you.
Tip 3: Take advantage of technology
You'll also need to leverage technology to accomplish your goals. I'm willing to bet that you know much more about the tech you use today than you did a year ago. From advanced features to little tips and tricks, you can maximize how your technology helps you achieve your stated objective.
In some cases, you may even use tech-based experiences as a point of inspiration for new projects. For example, if you've found Slack channels to be hugely effective for internal communication, you may experiment with channels for clients. It's not a bad exercise to ask which tech you've found most useful during the past year, then asking how you could expand your use of said tech.
During the development phase, creating cloud-based resources for all team members working on the project is essential. Whether we're talking spreadsheets, slide decks, or mock-ups, you want to create a world where information is sharable at a moment's notice. You won't be able to rely on whiteboards or "war rooms" to serve as command centers for your new work. Instead, you need to build digital ones.
Tip 4: Don't expect perfection
Finally, and this is a tough one, you have to realize that no launch will be perfect. You can test and test internally, and you'll still find users who encounter bugs on day one. That's just part of the equation, especially when working on a virtual project (just ask video game developers about how diligently players break games upon release). Dealing with post-launch issues should be a part of your plan from the jump. That way, when you encounter them, you'll be ready.
As you navigate the rest of 2021, I hope you'll save some time for new initiatives, ideas, and experiments. Conceiving and bringing those ideas to bear won't be the same as in the past, but it will add value to your business, just as it always has.
— Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is CEO of The B3 Method Institute, a keynote speaker and adviser, host of the Breaking Beliefs podcast, and Technology Innovations Taskforce leader for the AICPA's Information Management Technology Assurance (IMTA) Executive Committee. Learn more at www.amyvetter.com. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com.