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The Secret to Truly Optimizing Your Workflow? Focus on the Big Picture of Practice Management

The majority of accounting firms are recognizing the need to automate their workflow during tax season and beyond (if they haven’t implemented a workflow solution already). Before diving in to any workflow improvement project, however, firms need to take a step back and look at the big picture of practice management. Too often, firms look at workflow as an independent function, when in fact, it should be evaluated as part of an integrated practice management plan to truly optimize firm efficiency and profitability.

Workflow can be defined as a sequence of tasks that is planned and repeatable—it is also involves the application of firm resources to deliver client services. Simply put, workflow management is the organization of processes to create defined outputs. Taking a broader view of firm productivity, practice management can be defined as the system designed to organize service-oriented workflow and all other process-driven functions of a firm.

Therefore, an effective practice management plan must address:

  • Workflow for each type of engagement your firm typically handles.
  • Staff resource allocation.
  • Document management – both internal documents and those you receive from your clients.
  • Client relationship management – managing and improving the interactions between your firm and your clients.
  • Internal and external communications - managing communications between you, your staff, and your clients is a fundamental tenet of good practice management.
  • Time management and tracking for each task performed and each project completed.
  • Billing – ensuring that invoices are accurately generated in a timely manner to improve cash flow.
  • IT requirements including client portals and data storage and security.
  • Integration between the components of a firm’s technology infrastructure.

While focusing solely on workflow may initially seem like the simpler path, doing so in isolation can actually impede your firm’s efforts to maximize productivity. The important point here is that any workflow solution you consider should also integrate with other key areas of your practice. Ultimately, creating an effective practice management plan that optimizes your workflow is really about defining the needs of your firm and your clients then selecting and implementing the tools and practices that will help you meet them. 

Clearly, looking at the big picture of practice management requires more forethought and a strategic approach, but the payoff in enhanced efficiency and beyond stand-alone workflow solutions is well worth the effort.