So You Want to Be an Accounting Transformer?

So you want to be a transformer. Whether you are taking on a new position or still rockin’ an old one, “level-setting” is your first major step to getting things done. The only problem is…. where do you start?

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Be an Accounting Rock Star!

If you are rock star, you probably want to go where the music takes you… which in accounting speak translates to: where your biggest headache is. I’ve halted journal entries in the middle of close, simply because I couldn’t stand the way the template was originally setup. I hate to burst your rock star bubble though… there are better ways to approach process improvements than just willie nillie off the cuff.

There are a lot of books out there on how to manage process improvements (PI). I’ve read many of them. Lean Six Sigma is a popular method used by many project managers today. I’m a teeny, tiny fan of that method myself.  However, through a lot of trial an error, I’ve developed my own method to the initial level-setting.  Regardless of how you choose to step forward, if there is at least one thing I’ve learned from my rock star days, it’s that a strategic approach to PI can not only satisfy your need to rid yourself of the headache (aka some ancient process you inherited) but can also step up your accounting game and ultimately create more time…

Each of the following exercises is a step towards, gaining your “leveled” perspective. Follow them and you just might find the best place to start your process improvements:

  1. Checklists:   Take a long look at your check list and if need be, consolidate the checklists of everyone in your department. Even if your department has one central checklist, you may find that your more organized individuals keep an additional checklist for themselves. Reach out to everyone to ensure you have everything in one place. Having a full checklist allows you to quickly get a feel for how many manual tasks are being performed, how many areas are being tagged for analysis, what type of priorities are being notated at the staff level and how many deadlines may be competing with one another.
  2. Map your data feeds: Put together a process map of how all data feeds into your main database module or where all of the data you work with as an individual comes from. Whether this is AP, AR, sales tax, or General Ledger, all of the data you work with on a daily basis originates from somewhere. Understanding the source and how operating activities feed this source is important to understanding your piece of the process. Bonus – getting to know your IT, operational team and/or fellow accounting teams while asking about data feeds is a great way to start great working relationships!
  3. Track your time: Ask your team members to start tracking their time and/or start tracking your own time. Not only will this help identify some bottlenecks and areas for quick wins, this will help justify some of the larger project improvements down the line.
  4. Usability tests: Initiate usability tests for desktop procedures. Trust me… you’ll be thankful for usable documentation. It not only helps projects take off faster but it ensures that your colleagues can successfully take over your work, should you win the lottery and pursue your rock star dreams. (See blog: How Good Are Your Desktop Procedures?)
  5. C&P (Concerns & Priorities): What are leaderships’ key areas of concerns or priorities? If you don’t know the answer to this question, now is the time to find out. Meet with key leadership of the department you are evaluating. Ask about both their wants and their needs. How does this line up with the strategy points of the company as a whole? Sometimes it is easy to get “cubicle vision” and forget that there is a whole company trying to accomplish something outside of your bubble. Getting that perspective, helps you keep your perspective.
  6. Define your Endgame: Based on what you’ve learned, what does the ideal “picture” look like? Your ability to clearly define the end game will greatly impact your effectiveness. If the desired result is to have revenue numbers in real time but you prioritized a project that negatively impacts how quickly revenue is calculated… than you are working against the grain. Knowing where you are going – the goal – the ultimate destination – greatly influences your overall effectiveness and ability to contribute to a successful transformation.

If you’ve completed each of these exercises, you should have a good idea of both where you are at now AND where you want to be. You should also be able to identify an area that is preventing the ideal picture from being a current reality.

Let’s take the revenue example from above a little further. Leadership wants revenue on a continuous, live basis. In other words, they want to be able to look at their financials and see where revenue is at on any day of the month. If you were to make that happen today, right now, what would be preventing that? The answer to this is the key area that you’ll want to focus on. Using your data feed maps, checklists and other information you’ve gathered, you can begin to strategically address your leaderships concerns and priorities.   With the completion of each new improvement, ask yourself the same question: What is preventing the ideal picture from being a reality today?

Unsure where to go once you’ve identified your first key area? Stay tuned for additional blogs in the upcoming weeks. In the meantime, if you are not already familiar with the Lean Six Sigma methodology, you might consider checking out the following website: https://www.sixsigmacouncil.org/

If you are already familiar with the methodology, this would be a great time to start the Define phase of a DMAIC or DMADV analysis.

Happy Transforming!

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Transformer Photo by Samule Sun

Guitar Photo by Pexels

How Good Are Your Desktop Procedures?

If you win the lottery, will your colleagues be able to take over your processes?  The mere mention of desktop procedures in any accounting related department is usually met with a groan… few people enjoy slowing down their processes to document each step.  Yet these begrudged documents are the backup plan to you jumping on a plane destined for a sunny destination.
air-aircraft-airplane-1038362When I was studying for my bachelors degree, one of my leadership classes required that I give a presentation.  As part of this presentation, I decided that I was going to have the class participate in an experiment.  I had a picture in my hand, with a couple basic shapes.  The experiment was simple.  I would give instructions on how to draw these shapes  – their shape, size, placement, color, etc. – and the class would produce a drawing based on my instructions.  I was excited… I was going to demonstrate to the class how important clear instructions were in leadership.  This would be a sticking moment, one they would remember as they took on that first management position and I would land an ‘A’ in this course.  The problem is… the main shape, a quarter moon, I described as a half moon.  Not a single drawing in the class matched the drawing in my hand.  Red faced and scrambling to push past this error in front of a live studio audience (read: classroom full of now smirking college students), I learned the importance of testing instructions.

The term, usability test, is something generally reserved for IT teams who test end-users.  They want to ensure that navigating through their project is as easy as they designed it to be.  Though not common in the accounting world, usability tests are a great way to ensure your desktop procedures will lead your colleagues to the desired result.  They are also a great way to knock out some cross training.

I prefer blind tests – where the process owner does not actively lead the tester through the process.  Each test requires the participation of a colleague who is not familiar with computer-desk-email-7112the process.  He/she utilizes the desktop procedures to complete the process, tracking the number of questions asked in order to reach the desired result.  After completion, suggestions are given to improve the procedures.

I recommend at least 3 tests with 3 different testers to ensure that the procedures are interpreted similarly and produce results that are not materially different from one another (this is the accounting world, after all). However, you may consider continuing past the minimum 3 tests if the testers are asking multiple questions.

Performing usability tests on your desktop procedures are a sure-fire way of ensuring that your colleagues do not bother you on that lottery winning trip to the Bahamas (though let’s face it… we all know you intend on changing your number).   Plus, you never know which one of your testers may have an awesome trick up their sleeve that could result in you cutting that process in half!  Happy Testing!

 

What If I Could Teach You How to Create More Time?

Information workers are said to waste up to 25% of their week performing manual processes.  As an accountant, I’ve wasted more.  That is why I’ve developed methods to create time savings in my day to day routines and I’m on a quest to discover more methods, better tools and fun techniques to make accounting processes better, faster and dare I say… continuous.  Plus, I’m really just a big nerd and I love process improvement.

With each new blog, I’ll share with you best practices, things to consider, methods and techniques on tools ranging from excel formulas to robotic process automation.  When put into use, these tools can create time savings, allowing you more time to be a real accountant (kind of like Pinocchio, only better) – analyzing your numbers and evaluating your accounting treatment.  Will you join me on this journey to transform your accounting processes?

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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