Project Management in CPA Business Advisory Firms

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Even though you don’t practice medicine, establishing a good project management system for your business advisory firm will prevent plenty of headaches for all team members. 

Managing clients and all of the details and deadlines associated with them, especially during the busy tax season, is much more efficient with the right system in place. To save your sanity and serve your customers well, invest the time into building out a project management system. 

Has this ever happened to you?

It’s February 17th, and a client calls in to say they won’t be using your firm to do their tax return. You breathe a small sigh of relief. That was a client you don’t mind losing. Fast forward to April 15th. A call comes in from the same client who is irate and wants to know when their return is going to be done. 

Luckily, you’ve trained your staff to document all client conversations in your project management system. So, instead of your heart skipping a beat wondering what fell through the cracks, you refer back to the conversation from February to remind the caller that they chose to work with another firm this year. Crisis averted. 

Setting up your playbook

Your project management system is your playbook. The bad news? It takes time to set up. The good news? That time will be one of the best investments of time you make. You’ll never have to wonder where a project is, what steps have already been completed and where it needs to go next. In fact, despite the initial time and pain of setup, you will be thanking yourself time and again when someone is sick or leaves, and business continues without a hiccup. And, like the example above, you dramatically reduce the opportunity for important details to slip through the cracks.

The person in the JULIE™ role is the ideal person to oversee how the project management system is organized and utilized for every aspect of the firm. The bigger lift is on the JULIE™ role to get the system processes, categories, tasks, and protocols established initially. 

Most firms set up project management in their practice and/or workflow management platform. 

Where to begin

It can feel daunting. You’ll need to think through and document the processes, workflows, tasks, and standards for both prospective and existing clients. 

First, develop a process for how you will guide prospective clients on their journey to becoming a full client. Designate an administrator to follow the process and capture notes along the way. What steps will you require the prospective client to take before your initial or final meeting? Do you require access to their Quickbooks? Do you request their business plan so you can hold them accountable on their journey? Create a space for those steps to be tracked, ensuring you are following your processes to give the best value to your clients.

Next, set reasonable deadlines for yourself and your clients, and stick to them. Communicate the firm’s deadlines with your clients. Internal deadlines minimize last minute stress on staff who otherwise could be expected to turn around a project the client dropped off a day before it’s due. That is not acceptable to expect of team members, even during tax season.

Along with tracking deadlines, detailed notes about every client interaction are a must. 

Bridge the gap

Just because you invest hours and hours of time setting up a program management system doesn’t mean everyone is going to automatically know how to use it. You’re going to have to bridge that gap in knowledge and set clear expectations for using the system.

First, it is not a choice for anyone for any process. Second, every person touching the system should be trained on exactly what is expected of them. Most practice and project management systems have customizable dashboards. Keep in mind that people work differently, and take the time to meet with every person who is expected to use the system and find out how best to help them customize their view so that it is most efficient for how they work.

Key benefits

Once the system is set up, your executive in the JULIE™ role can delegate the input of information into the system and establish rules and protocols for setting up new projects and processes. Once the JULIE™ role has set up the project management system, he or she needs the ability to monitor the data that is in it. A few examples include:

  • Individual workloads – Maximize efficiency for the team with visibility to each team member’s workload. 
  • Project statuses – Now you have a single place to go to get a pulse on where the firm is during any point in the year. What is in house already? What are you still waiting on from clients? Where are the bottlenecks? 
  • Budget – Watch for trends that develop over time, and let the numbers tell the story of actual time spent on each project vs what was budgeted
  • Accountability – Hold team members accountable through your compensation structure to put in their time.

While it might seem overwhelming to set up a project management system, the time that you invest in it will return to your firm. It will create clear structures and processes that will provide a positive client/firm experience while empowering your team to do what they do best.

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