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?
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:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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?)
- 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.
- 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.
Transformer Photo by Samule Sun
Guitar Photo by Pexels