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Tax & AccountingMarch 09, 2020

Get in Control: Strategies to Increase Capacity

Some projects almost complete themselves. It's as though you thought about what you wanted to have done, and it sprang, fully formed, from your head a la Athena.

Then there are those projects that seem to take an indeterminable amount of your time, energy, and team resources, and you STILL don't know what the status is (side note: there's a workflow and productivity solution for that).

These projects tend to come up last minute, require multiple update meetings, and may or may not have been on your radar. Because you don't have documented processes and procedures, or your documentation is either 1) woefully out of date or 2) confusing and hard to follow, control is slipping out of your grasp.

You aren't alone in this. Only 4% of companies always document their processes, with another 50% or so reporting that they sometimes document, meaning that 46% don't document their processes. To put that into a real-world perspective, just under half of your vendors and service providers potentially don't have a process to document critical parts of your interaction with them. Let's hope that your account manager doesn't change any time soon.

Having stable, predictable processes that operate consistently are vital to reaching target levels of growth and performance. Documenting those processes so that they are clearly understood by both managers and individual team members can sometimes seem like a tall order. But rather than looking at the documentation process as the thirteenth Herculean task, start with these small steps. Ask your team to help you answer these questions:

What are all of the sources of incoming work?

Don't just consider work that your team or department is doing – consider all sources of work that impact your team. For example, in a tax department, don't just consider returns and filing deadlines, but the impact of the company moving into that new territory the sales department has been itching to tackle. What are the repercussions of going into a new location, especially in a post-Wayfair world? What new jurisdictions will the tax department be in charge of tracking and monitoring as a result of the sales team's success?

Identifying the sources of incoming work is the first step in documenting a process. Without knowing the point of inception, it's difficult for the resulting process to be stable and function consistently.

What portion of work and requests are predictable, and what percentage are unpredictable?

Predictable can mean daily, weekly, monthly, every other month; it doesn't matter. Predictable work tends to be consistent in the scope of work and /or cyclicality and is often considered routine. Note that routine does not equal easy.

The larger question from a process documentation perspective surrounds unpredictable work: what percentage of your work is unpredictable, and possibly more importantly, how often does an unpredictable (or ad hoc) request happen? Ad hoc work tends to stand out because those projects are usually a little more out of control than predictable work.

Once you've identified the amount of time spent on either form of work, start defining what sources of work, and what projects, fall under each category.

How do I make a process for unpredictable and unstructured requests and work?

Predictable processes are, by their nature, simpler to document. Gaining control over your workflow means focusing on unpredictable and unstructured requests and projects, since they are the most likely to send your carefully balanced work-life topsy turvy.

Documenting a process may be as simple as grouping like projects together. For projects that require the same actions every time they occur, but happen on an inconsistent basis, gain control of the project group by documenting the processes and referring your team back to the documentation whenever the project occurs.

Is there a way for me to automate a request so that I don't have to answer it manually?

Every team has questions and requests they are consistently asked: the same data, same email, same report. If you're asked for a status report on a project every day, and you spend five minutes typing up a brief overview, that's 25 minutes a week you could spend on strategic functions.

Automating requests can be as simple as a report or dashboard showing the status of various projects, or as complex as setting up a routine in your workflow solution to automatically email a report detailing what you would have manually gathered and sent in that email.

What controls do I have to put into place to trust that something was completed without me having to see it?

This is where you gain control by letting go. Assuming that you have a quality team to support you, what controls would help you feel comfortable not performing the task yourself? Remember, the goal is to increase your mental and physical capacity. Allowing others to complete these daily tasks frees you up to spend more time on strategic items.

Utilize these questions to start building your process framework, drilling down into the functionality of various processes. Document them so that management and the people who perform the tasks clearly understand each step. Emphasizing clarity empowers the individual contributor to accomplish tasks without relying on the expert every time a question comes up, increasing the speed with which processes are completed.

In creating a more efficient and effective team, you'll discover that out-of-control feeling that occurs whenever an unpredictable request comes in will disappear. You have controls in place to allow you to know that work is getting done without having to oversee every step of the process. And because you've considered the impact of other teams and departments on your team's workload, you aren't shocked and unprepared when a shift in priorities happens. You've increased your capacity to think strategically and plan for unpredictable requests, and empowered your team to do the same.

Getting in control doesn't mean doing everything yourself. It means setting yourself and your team up for success by documenting processes and providing the tools to complete projects promptly so that you can reach and exceed target levels of growth and performance.


Read other posts in the series and learn how to gain back time by killing the meetings, and how to focus on progress over perfection.

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Hillarie Diaz, Author for Tax & Accounting

As a content creator for Wolters Kluwer’s Professional Market, Hillarie focuses on a wide range of accounting and finance technology space topics. As an accountant who enjoys writing, she brings over a decade of accounting experience to her writing.