Project Management Techniques Help Accounting Firms Thrive
By Samantha Mansfield
A willingness and ability to innovate has been a key characteristic of many successful tax and accounting firms. Facing such challenges as overwhelmed talent, increased demand for services, changes in technology and evolved work/life expectations, innovation is a requirement.
It is no wonder the profession, especially over the last several years, has been turning to project management techniques, and leveraging the expertise of professionals in this field, to bring about necessary changes.
Too many organizations lose money and opportunities by not completing their innovation initiatives. Examples of such projects might include launching a new service, rolling out a new pricing strategy, hiring remote staff, or implementing new technology. Project management best practices help organizations stay competitive and healthy by providing a framework to complete these undertakings.
Maintaining Focus and Defining Scope
Many projects fail due to lack of adequate vision and clarity of objectives. A successfully managed project is not the result of a detailed spreadsheet or a strong taskmaster. A well-crafted vision must be communicated from the beginning.
The vision should describe the outcome, not what the end product is. Given the speed of change, iterating during the project is important so the initiative is still relevant when completed. By describing the desired results, the project team will have a specific goal to work toward.
The more specific the vision, the easier it is for the project manager to accurately scope the initiative. A project sponsor should communicate the vision, and provide direction on the purpose, timing and resources available to complete the project.
Without this specificity, the scope is likely to be too ambiguous, causing the project to get off track, break the budget, and stretch timelines. The project can become so big that the original purpose is lost and the window of opportunity is missed.
A well-defined scope creates boundaries for the project team to operate within. Additional ideas and opportunities identified along the way should be captured for any future projects.
Planning and Forecasting
As clarity of vision fosters better scoping, having a detailed scope enables better planning and forecasting.
Planning includes assembling a diverse team. There should be various subject matter experts and those with different points of view. By building in this diversity, unconscious biases can more easily be avoided, therefore, reducing risk. Pulling talent from various parts of the organization can also help balance capacity challenges, budgets and staff availability in this very deadline-driven profession.
Identification of the metrics to track progress and success is another key component of the planning process. As the saying goes, “We manage what we measure.” This may mean new KPIs need to be created, historical data should be pulled, and all this data should be communicated. Transparency of these metrics is important for the team to make good decisions and know when adjustments need to be made.
Accounting Project Management Resources
Project managers leverage many tools and techniques to run a project. Let’s look at a few.
- Fostering collaboration amongst the team is an important strategy for any project. When this occurs, creativity thrives and productivity levels increase. Project leaders lean on communication, standardization and reporting and analysis to keep the team on track.
- Communicating expectations is crucial when inviting talent to be part of the project. They need to understand why they are being asked to participate, as well as the role and responsibilities they will have. They need the timeline, so they can verify their availability for the entire project or any portions of it. They should be given an estimate on the time commitment required to be part of the project.
- Software tools are instrumental in communicating status, tracking progress and analyzing the data. The tasks and assignments can be managed through a workflow management program, like Caseware Accomplish. Employing tools that are already being used in the firm minimizes change and enables standardization of processes and reporting. But don’t use common reporting just to stay consistent; the reports must have data that is relevant to the project and illustrates whether the correct impact is being made.
Tax and accounting firms have been hiring non-traditional staff, like project managers, to help their teams run more efficiently and provide more value. Even if your organization cannot hire a certified project management professional (PMP), look to start adopting their best practices, principles and mindsets. Training on these tools and certification programs are available to ensure you have team members capable of supporting your firm’s initiatives.
Employing these techniques can enable your team to drive necessary change in less time, and often under budget. As with anything new, it will take practice, and mistakes will be made, so give yourself grace as you hone this process.
Take a moment to reflect on the current state of your practice. Do you have an idea or initiative that has been sitting dormant? Dust it off, use the techniques that project managers use every day, and get started.
Samantha Mansfield is a Michigan-based consultant, public speaker, and founder of Samantha Mansfield LLC. She has been in the tax and accounting technology industry for over 20 years, consulting firms on implementation and business model transformation.