Managing The Front Door With Lean Six Sigma

You Have More Control Over Your Processes Than You Think

Are you in the driver’s seat this busy season or are you already just going along for the ride? If you don’t feel like you’re in control of your resources, schedule, clients or workload, then you already know the answer. Yes, we probably should have already completed what we’re about to cover in this article, but don’t worry, there’s still time to have an influence on this busy season!

Being accounting professionals, we know there are a variety of things we have no control over, such as “on hold” times with the IRS. However, it’s important to understand, there are other areas in which we can control but we choose not to. We’re rarely ever aware of it, but not being proactive is a choice we make.

With that said, being proactive and finding what you actually do have control over is a great start. Here is a list of some common things we perceive lack of control over:

The Tax Side:

  • 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 (preparing a return that doesn’t get reviewed for weeks)

The Audit Side:

  • An updated and accurate schedule
  • An accurate/realistic budget (it doesn’t matter because the work always gets done anyway right?)
  • PBC items
  • Clients being “ready” for us on day one of fieldwork

There will always be things that you control and those that control you. But understand, both are direct reflections of your firm’s processes.

What You Control

Do you just mail out those organizers or send your clients a generic PBC list? What happens now? Do you simply wait and see what shape it comes back in? If so, you’re too late! You’ve given up control. Just imagine one of your clients waiting on materials from a supplier. Can they produce? No. They are now at the mercy of their supply chain. And guess what? So are you.

That’s why you have to “manage the front door.” It starts with designing a better shoebox for your clients. The best organizer is whichever one the client will actually use and use correctly. Also, customize your document request lists. Don’t just roll them over and change the date on the top! Prioritize the items to reflect what you need by when and assign who’s responsible. Then, be proactive and coach the information in the door. Make it easy for your clients to work with you or as I like to say, “Help them help you.”

Define profitability by making receipt of this information a top priority. Only then can you control how the information flows through your firm and the final client deliverable.

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. To ensure a client is ready, you must confirm readiness. You have to see to believe – no more blind faith.

So, what should the standard be? That's your call and it may vary depending on the client. For tax, a guideline could be – however much will allow us to substantially complete prep and review the return. Is a trial balance enough? Sometimes, but rarely. You need to recognize the impact starting and stopping has on your firm, and you know where to look, last year's Work-in-Progress (WIP) detail. But, for audit, is it cash and pre-paids? I sure hope not. What do we need to keep the team productive for the entire first day?

If the amount of information a client submitted is insufficient, then you must contact them and say so. Reinforce that work will not begin until you have the minimal amount of information per your standard or that you won’t travel out with a team until what you need is in hand (at least virtually). This is for your client’s own good too as it will minimize all the back and forth requests you have to make of them.

Take Control Early On To Define the Client Experience (And Yours)

Clients believe you can get their work done at the last minute, especially since they also think they’re your most important client. As you've strived to accommodate them, you have surrendered control and increased stress. This may affect the quality of work too since there isn't enough time to fully consider those planning opportunities that the client would really value or uncover the consulting opportunities that their business would benefit from.

With that, 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. So, change your mind set about this busy season now.

Need Help?

Applying Lean Six Sigma to your processes will make it easier on you and your team to manage. Not to mention, using Six Sigma principles will improve your client experience as well. If you’d like to learn more about Lean Six Sigma and how it can help your firm, email LeanCPA or call me directly at 614.923.6586.

By Chris Liebtag, LSSBB, PMP

Lean CPA
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