Learn to Love Frustration – Or Fix Your Workflow #3

The first two installments covered defining your workflow as the first step to improvement and pushing work down to the lowest staff level possible as the second step.  The final step in improving your workflow is removing unnecessary steps.


As I wrote in the last post, Ruthlessly Efficient Workflow (REW) has two primary tenets.  Since I covered pushing tasks down the organization food chain in the last post, let’s cover the second tenet.  Tasks must either deliver value to a client or be required for regulatory purposes.


Go through the workflow you defined in the first post in the series, and write next to each step whether the step delivers value to clients or is required for regulatory reasons.  If a step delivers value to a client, write down the value it delivers.  If required for regulatory reasons, write down why it’s required.  If you are laboring to determine if a step delivers client value or is required, you have a good candidate for a step to be eliminated.


If you have a step such as a client meeting to kick off the tax prep process, consider whether a client meeting is really the first step, or if the first step is really more generic such as simply receiving documents by some means from a client.


The final piece to reengineering your workflow is to determine which steps you want to track.  In other words, when a project is at a particular step, do you care?  For instance, a tax preparer might go through stages of entering first wages and then interest and then dividends.  These stages are not good workflow steps as you probably don’t care when the preparer is entering wages versus dividends.  It is all just initial prep.  So initial prep is your workflow step.  Here’s an example from our workflow with some notes.


Step                                        Person                                    Benefit

Client to provide docs             person in charge         Can’t start without docs

Scanning                                  admin                          Ditto above

Autoflow                                  entry level                   Import info to tax prep program

Initial prep                              preparer                      Basic data entry

Draft questions                       person in charge         Stops crazy questions from going to client

Waiting on answers               preparer                      Waiting on client answers

Second prep                            preparer                      Incorporates client answers

Review                                     person in charge         Stops mistakes on return

Review complete                    preparer                      Corrects mistakes caught on review

Draft to client                         person in charge         Client review to get over shock and awe

Final production                      admin                          Post returns to portal for client

Need e-file papers                  admin                          Waiting status for signed 8879s

Waiting on payment               admin                          Not going to be filed until paid

Filed waiting on ACK               admin                          E-filed needing acceptance

Completed and archived        admin                          E-file acceptance sent to client


Note how many tasks are performed by admin.  Also, the person in charge is potentially involved for just three tasks: asking questions, reviewing a return, and posting the draft.  Two of the three involve critical client contact.


We track these statuses in Clarity Practice Management.  For instance, we can see all the returns that are complete, but where we are waiting on payment.  This gives us the ability to get paid before we e-file.  We can also see all the returns where we are waiting on clients to answer questions.  CPM even sends automated reminders when clients haven’t answered our questions.


You might reasonably ask what we do when we have more questions for a client after the initial round.  We just back the project up a step to waiting on answers again.


Hopefully, you can see that improving your workflow isn’t that difficult.  Follow the three steps:

  1. Define your current workflow.
  2. Push tasks down to the lowest staff level that can complete the task.
  3. Eliminate tasks that deliver no value to clients or aren’t required by regulation.


Thanks for reading!

Frank Stitely, CPA, CVA


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