Where are Your Orange Barrels?

Small things can create major work bottlenecks

It's summer time! Or perhaps, depending where you live, it's that time of year we like to refer to as "Orange Barrel Season." I'm guessing you have encountered an orange barrel or two that has tied you up in traffic, and perhaps made you late to wherever you were going.

How can one little piece of orange plastic wreck so much havoc on our summer travel? Well, because, it's not just one barrel. Typically, it's a series of barrels that can stretch on for miles causing a bottleneck of traffic as four lanes are forced to merge into a single one. Each barrel you pass makes the situation worse and adds to your frustration. And frustration causes tempers to flare, headaches to develop and patience to fly out the window.

As accountants, we too have an orange barrel season tax season. And we have bottlenecks that negatively impact our work (or traffic) flow. As work backs up, team members begin to get frustrated and lose patience. It doesn't have to be that way. You need to find those orange barrels and move them out of your way for good.

Finding Bottlenecks

Luckily, bottlenecks are easy to find. Just like the orange barrel, it's not a simple misstep that backs up your process. Rather it's those things that, when done over and over again, cause your tax returns to slow traffic.

Think back to early April. Where did your tax returns sit too long? There is a specific point in time where your bottleneck started. This could be a physical location like someone's desk or a step in your workflow process, like sitting in a queue waiting for review. 

You should also think about those times where your staff found themselves starting and stopping over and over again. It could be because they were missing a key piece of information either the client didn't send it or it was missing in your office. So instead of being efficient tax preparers, your staff became private investigators hunting down the missing information so they could continue...holding up other work as a result.

Rerouting Traffic

The key to having effective processes is to find ways to keep your work moving without interference. This may require adding additional resources at a certain step in the process. Or maybe it's a simple checklist to make sure you have everything needed before you begin. Or you may need to take a step that's rather complex, and simplify it by focusing on what matters most to your internal and external customers.

You'll want to look at the physical placement of your orange barrels, too. There may be a way to reconfigure the physical layout of your environment to reduce the actual steps someone takes. To move people closer to the physical resources they need. To add technology to speed up delivery between people and departments.

The key is to create uniform processes that are deployed consistently throughout the firm. One person moving against the flow of traffic will create mayhem. Once you have your traffic pattern developed, keep everyone going the same direction no exceptions.

Having an Eye in the Sky

When you look at traffic from above, it's easy to see where the problems are happening. You too may need this outside perspective. Those consultants certified in Lean Six Sigma have a unique set of tools in their toolbox they can pull out to help remedy bottlenecks. As a result, you will be able to keep your traffic flowing, often utilizing fewer resources. And your firm will have happier employees and increased profits. 

Now is the best time to look for those bottlenecks. We're not too far out from the prior season to forget the pain, and there is still time to make changes before the next busy season is upon us. Let us help you move those orange barrels so you prevent traffic jams before they happen.

Lean CPA
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