Prioritising workflow within your Accounting firm – Part 1/4

What client work should I, or my colleagues, focus on right now?

The ability to accurately answer this question is key to a happy client base. The ability to answer it quickly, at any given time, without expending excessive time or brain power contributes to a productive work life. So how can you use Glide to ease the burden.

This is the first in a four part series that looks at how Accountants in practice use Glide to assist with prioritising work and in part one we talk about understanding and configuring Glide.

We love the moment, usually a few days after a new customer has properly started investigating the options within Glide, when they say “Ahh I get it”. The penny has dropped so to say and our new client has realised that Glide is a bit different in approach simply because it has been designed with the Accounting firm in mind. Whilst that client would have benefitted from Glide anyway they are now in a position to truly unlock the potential and attack the bottlenecks or specific challenges posed by their unique client base. This blog is designed to help more of our web visitors understand the possibilities without needing to invest that initial time in the learning curve.

Understand how the system works:

So step one in configuration is to understand how the system works. I know it sounds obvious.

Glide comes with pre configured templates. This just means that we have had a go at doing the set up for you, we spent most of our former lives working in Accounting firms and so the likelihood is that the templates will be reasonably relevant to your practice already, however, as with most things in life the more effort you put in at the start the higher the benefits you can reap later on. Small changes made now can have a big impact.

The work most likely to be overlooked or neglected within a firm is the mundane compliance work. Your team probably doesn’t tend to forget about those really interesting project you give them. Therefore in designing a system purely for Accountants we took recurring workflows seriously and you can use this to your advantage when it comes to prioritising. As an example if it is really important to you that you e-mail your key clients 70 days before their year end, just to suggest meeting up to discuss year end tax planning, you’ll clearly need to have set up your system to automatically create Accounts workflows at least 70 days before year end. That then guarantees that particular task will be in the mixer when it comes to prioritising.

The point of workflow initiation is clearly ‘step 1’ in your thought process, where it begins, and appreciating that this is automated might encourage you to make more use of the possibilities. Clearly if you had to remember to roll forward a spreadsheet 70 days before year end, a whole 11.3 months before any fear of a filing penalty, it just wouldn’t happen, after all this blog is about becoming more productive.

You then start to think how that job should progress in an ideal scenario. Having started 70 days pre year end, this workflow is clearly going to span at least 5 months in total. It is not difficult to pinpoint the ideal ‘end’ scenario, continuing the example that might be an accurately completed set of Accounts and tax returns, filed wherever they should be, a client ecstatic with the service received, a favourable recovery rate and all within the ‘target turnaround’.

The trouble with Accounting workflow is that what happens in the middle can be less predictable. Additionally what should happen in the middle will differ depending upon many factors, both permanent client factors such as size and legal form but also circumstance specific to that year, such as a genuine reason to delay filing, the availability of a tax refund, and so on and so forth. Understanding how Glide deals with ‘the middle bit’ is key.

The middle bit:

If your pre-conception of recording workflow is entering a date next to the list of stages you designed you will be familiar with the downsides of this approach; lack of clarity over when is a stage actually complete, in what context it was completed, what therefore is the next action (not always the next stage down), who should do it, when should they do it by…. etc. Recording minimal information is inevitably of limited value.

Glide retains the one positive aspect of this approach, speed, on the job card you will press one ‘progress button’ to indicate that you have done something. This will take the same time as entering a date onto your old spreadsheet. That is where the similarities end.

So what are the progress buttons and how many do I need?

For each stage that your job can be sat at, you need one progress button for every possible scenario worth recording. (Note it is clearly possible to set up the bare minimum, say two stages with one progress button to move from stage one to, the end, stage 2. Some firms do this but it doesn’t make for an interesting blog, thus my examples are necessarily more elaborate.) A progress button has a label such as ‘Information chased by phone’. Therein lies a key difference to note, the combination of having a stage (“Awaiting information”) and a named progress button (“Information chased by phone”) means that despite spending the same time updating your records you have already provided far more information to whoever may need to know what is going on, you have confirmed what actually happened.

There are some common scenarios where we have seen multiple buttons:

  • Awaiting information: Here you can have progress buttons to record your chasing efforts and will perhaps have one progress button to record ‘information fully received’ and one another for ‘partially received’.
  • Reviewing a file: Here you might have a button ‘Reviewed – all OK’ and a button ‘Reviewed – issues to resolve’ and a button ‘Reviewed – send as finals’.
  • Submitting a tax return: Here you might have a button ‘Submitted’ and a button ‘Submitted – awaiting refund’.

So far so good but the clever bit comes from the ‘workflow actions’. This is what the system does when you press a button and importantly you get to decide upon them and you can differentiate them for each progress button. There are many options but he key ones to understand at this stage are listed below:

  • Change stage: Each button can of course update the stage that the job is sat on. This might be going backwards, forwards, jumping to the end or just remaining on the same stage. The latter would be used in the above example of chasing information. You record the chase for your records but fundamentally you are still ‘awaiting information’. This just builds up a nice audit trail and potentially updates a target to remind you to chase again in the future (see below)
  • Change holder: Whilst Glide is all about promoting transparency in the office (everyone can see all workflows), each workflow is ‘held’ by one user (or the pool) at any one time. The holder should be the user responsible for timely completion of the next stage. By keeping the holder up to date you allow users to drill down on dashboard widgets or reports to just see those that they are holding. Each progress button can have a workflow action that changes the current holder to be a specific person, the job pool or a staff association (e.g. ‘the partner’).
  • Set targets: Each stage can hold a target completion date as you would expect, but how often do these dates, once set, become irrelevant? As soon as the job is delayed. Glide overcomes this, you can have any number of target setting workflow actions set up on each progress button. So once information is received you might trigger a target on the ‘send finals’ stage for + 35 days, however, suppose the client only answers queries 40 days after you e-mailed him/her, to overcome this your button ‘queries answered’ would reset the ‘send finals’ target to be say + 10 days from receiving the answers.

That final workflow action, once set up to reflect your processes and desired service levels, will mean that without any extra efforts on an ongoing basis – all of your jobs will have up to date target dates. This is critical when it comes to implementing a system that can help you prioritise for your self and your team with minimal effort.

That covers the basis, in the remainder of this 4 part blog we shall expand upon this:

  • Part 2:- Using different workflow routes to prioritise different client categories.
  • Part 3:- Using sub-systems to help different departments prioritise workflow.
  • Part 4:- Using your Glide dashboard to prioritise Accounting firm workflow.

Here are a couple of video links that cover the basics as described above.


1 Comment

  1. […] the first part of this four part blog we discussed the basic building blocks of a workflow route; the stages, […]

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