Progressing cautiously has its rewards

As I was traveling 30 miles of icy and snowy highway last week to get to the airport, I came upon flashing emergency lights. It appeared as if two cars had spun out, ended up in a ditch and were being pulled out by a tow truck. I began to slow down and took extreme caution the rest of the drive.

I instantly thought of a story a colleague told me last year about his trip home from the airport. He was driving in the middle of a typical Ohio snow storm, going slow and using caution. Out of his rearview mirror he saw an SUV approaching fast. As it passed, he noticed the plates were from Georgia. He thought to himself, "Poor guys. They have no clue what they're in for." Sure enough, several miles up the road, the SUV had spun off the road. (No offense to Georgians – they just don't drive in a foot of snow as often as Ohioans.)

What does this have to do with Lean? Well, both of these stories got me thinking about how this phenomenon is similar to something that often plays itself out in CPA firms.

You Wouldn't Have Known That

Every time someone in your firm utters the phrase, "you wouldn't have known that," you should immediately realize that you have inefficiencies. Chances are those few words have translated into an extra work loop that contributes non-value added time to your process. Even the person who used the phrase probably realized they just caused a failure.

How are these loops created? The culprit may be an audit manager who forgot to share some crucial section information or analysis. You see, she discovered important information in the audit planning meeting, but didn't share it with the staff actually on the job. Now, fieldwork has become delayed.

Or it could be a partner who failed to communicate the notes he took at that meeting with the tax client in October. He didn't take an extra 30 seconds to scan the meeting notes or give them to an assistant to scan and file. The staff person who needed the information to correctly prepare the return now has an hour or more of re-work, and there is at least one more loop in the process.

The worst part? Either situation could have been prevented. This shouldn't be a frequent occurrence in a professional service organization, because the only thing you sell is service, but unfortunately it is.

Steer Your Team in the Right Direction

When you don't share needed information and communicate effectively with the internal customers in your processes, you are setting your team up for potentially dangerous driving conditions. You know the road ahead is icy. If you were driving, you would react accordingly. Your team, unaware of the upcoming conditions, is going full speed ahead into an icy mess. They are sure to spin out, further delaying their route and creating a setback.

What is your process to communicate or show your team the route ahead? Don't let them become that SUV in the ditch.

Lean CPA
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