Workflow software has been gaining popularity in accounting firms as they try to boost efficiency. But since it’s a relatively new category, “workflow” can be hard to define. Some workflow tools help firms track documents and deadlines, while others are more comprehensive. Anyone looking for a list of “must-have workflow features” needs to think hard about the firm’s unique goals and vision. Most experts agree that electronic workflows shouldn’t seek to duplicate old processes. These manual processes will be as inefficient in digital form as they were in analog.
Instead, workflow software gives firms the opportunity to create new efficiencies. With electronic workflows, project tracking can evolve beyond simply monitoring due dates, and start to help the firm evolve into a more productive and profitable operation. Here are three must-have workflow features and why you need them.
Pools of Unassigned Work
If you’ve ever been interrupted by a junior staff member asking what to work on next (or if you’ve been the one doing the interrupting), you know the value of staff empowerment. Your staff should be able to find unassigned projects and get to work. Pools allow staff to choose appropriate projects based on their own skill level as well as the firm’s needs. This is not just a time saver. It also gives staff more independence and a sense of accountability, which can boost morale.
In order to evaluate projects in a meaningful way, it’s important to be able to compare budget to actual information. Project-based budget-to-actual reporting should include the ability to view hours as well as amounts. This information should be available at the workstep level as well as the project level. You should also be able to compare the planned start and finish dates with actual dates. Data like this helps firms identify bottlenecks and trouble spots. When you can report on this data by staff member, you can even use it for employee evaluations and staff development purposes.
Project Status Visualization
Dashboards can give you great insight into the work going on in your firm. Knowledge is power, so access to the right information can make a big difference. By far, the best way to absorb and understand your workflow data is with data visualization. Especially during busy season, a graphical view of active projects can show how your firm is performing at a glance. Whether you’re keeping an eye on how many returns are waiting for review or monitoring the number of projects in planning stages, there is no substitute for a clear chart.
What a firm considers to be “must-have workflow features” will vary depending on your business. However, whatever solution you choose should be flexible enough to work the way you need to it to, while also providing the power to transform your firm’s efficiency. This is not a simple combination. Your workflow tools can help you along, but transformation takes time and effort.
Making a workflow software decision? Download the “Project Management/Workflow Checklist” by Brian Tankersley of K2 Enterprises.