Become a Control Freak This Tax Season

You Have More Control Over the Process Than You Think

By: Chris Liebtag, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt & Lean Gold Practitioner | January 2014

"I feel like I have no control."

Have you made that comment to yourself recently? If you're a tax professional, chances are you have. But why? It could be…

… the delayed start to filing season
… corrected and re-corrected brokerage statements
… organizers returned incomplete, if at all
… clients procrastinating until the deadline
… extensions at the deadline
… the inevitable pick up & put down syndrome
… the hurry up and wait syndrome (prepping a return that doesn't get reviewed for weeks)

There is nothing you can do about these obstacles, right? After all, they are out of your control, or are they?

Okay, so the first two above may be out of your control. However, you can control the others. There are those things that you control and those that control you. Both are direct reflections of your firm's processes.

What You Control
If you were to examine the root cause of your processes, you would probably find that many of your inefficiencies stem from missed opportunities to control when, where and how you receive client information.

Still sending that generic organizer and document request list? What happens then? Do you simply wait to see what shape it comes back in? Now, it's too late. You've given up control.

You have to "manage the front door." That starts with designing a better shoebox for your clients. The best organizer is whichever one the client will use…correctly. Customize your organizers and document request lists. Prioritize the items to reflect what you need by when. Then, be proactive and coach the information in the door. Make it easy for your clients to work with you.

Define profitability by making receipt of this information a priority. Put habitual extenders on extension now. Don't let this work interfere with returns that need to be filed by the deadline.

What Controls You
Do you have internal policies in place to dictate when client information enters your process? You should have a firm standard based on the answer to the question, "Is there enough?" The only way you can eliminate the pick up and put down syndrome is to prevent the go ahead and get started just to keep busy mentality.

What should the standard be? That's your call and it may vary by the client. A guideline could be – however much will allow us to substantially complete prep and review. Is a trial balance enough? Sometimes, but rarely. Recognize the impact starting and stopping has. You know where to look. Last year's WIP detail.

If the amount of information a client submitted is insufficient, then you need to contact them and say so. The client probably thinks you get to work the moment they send you something. Let them know that's not the case and reinforce that prep will not begin until you have the minimal amount of information per your standard. It's for their own good too, as it will minimize all the back and forth requests you have to make of them.

Take Control Early On
Clients believe you can get the work done at the last minute, especially since they also think they are your most important client. As you've strived to accommodate them, you have ceded control and increased stress. The quality of work may be suffering too since there isn't enough time to fully consider those planning opportunities that the client would really value.

Recognize that you have more control of the process than you think. Taking control of what happens early in the process and building quality into the front end is a basic tenet of Six Sigma. It's what dictates the quality of the outcome. Change your mindset about tax season. Become that "control freak."

Work smarter, not harder. We can help you apply Lean Six Sigma to your tax processes to make them easier on you and your team while also improving your client experience. To learn more, contact us today.

Lean CPA
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