Articles

8 Problems Impacting Successful Tax Workflow

By Don Emery, CPA, CA

Tax workflow is plagued by starts and stops for a variety of very common reasons. If your firm is dealing with any of the most common problems outlined in this article that impede what could be a more successful tax workflow, now is the time to address these issues and set the stage for efficient tax seasons in the future.  In this article learn about the most common workflow problems and gain insight into how to resolve these issues.

  1. MANAGEMENT OF MISSING INFORMATION. Tax workflow tends to linear. Problems with tax workflow occur because workflow typically begins after source documents are received and the firm is only made aware of missing information when they get to the preparation or review stage. Time is wasted when staff members are stalled due to uncertainty of whether all information they need is present or when files are missing information.
    This problem is solved in a number of ways. You can keep the linear aspect of tax workflow through adding optional stages after preparation and review stages. You might identify whether all documents have been received or create a notification identifying workflow is paused while waiting on documents.  Additionally, software that provides the ability to easily move the workflow back to the person who needs to do their work on a file after documents are received sets the workflow back on track to move forward from where it was formerly stalled. Having this level of workflow control allows the firm administrator or those handling the assignment of work to leverage the resource who has room in their schedule of work when the linear aspect of workflow is impacted by missing information.
  1. TRACKING WIP AND REPORTING ON DEMAND. Tax season is demanding on resources; scheduling work, tracking status on work and keeping your people productively moving work forward are critical to revenue and your firm’s reputation. It is more common than one might expect for a firm to not know with certainty the status of the work in process or the various stage that each project is at. If this describes your firm it is likely you are familiar with operating in a fire drill like environment adding unneeded stress to what is already inherently a highly stressful time of year.
    This problem is resolved by having the capability to report on work in process and the various stages of all work in process at a moment’s notice, in real time, without having to print a report and review it. Additionally, being able to easily filter reports to drill into the details you need to assign or reroute work speeds this process as well.
  1. DUE DATE CONTROL. Firms worry about missing something when they get close to a due date.
    This problem is resolved when you operate with highly flexible workflow software that makes real time reporting easy to do. When dealing with tax work and due dates, having the ability to do a mass update to workflow when close to due dates and extend and change due dates to multiple clients’ saves time.
  1. REAL-TIME TASK PRIORITIZATION. Due dates are jeopardized when you do not have the ability to prioritize tasks in real-time. The question of whether there is something of higher priority that should be worked on (e.g. due earlier than what you are working on at present, higher client priority, project has been stagnant for a while, etc.) will persist.
    This problem is resolved when workflow software operates as a real-time information source that does not require a daily or weekly physical audit of accordion files for status and tracking.
  1. INTEGRATED WORKFLOW SOFTWARE.  Being forced to track workflow in one system with no connection as integration to source documents forces unnecessary steps in tax workflow.  When workflow software is not integrated to allow you one-click instant access to all documents needed to do the work wherever they reside on your system, you are being forced into work-arounds which is launching additional programs to search for an access documents needed at that very moment when work on a file should have begun.
    This problem is resolved when workflow software is integrated and automatically linked to the work itself, enabling in one-click the ability to instantly launch all documents that support your project. This eliminates the added work of tracking in one system before manually locating then opening the work or documents in another software program or location within your network.
  1. IMPROVE MANAGEMENT OF WORKFLOW STOPPAGES. With tax work there will always be workflow stoppages for a variety of reasons. Through the use of workflow software governing systemized processes you can improve how the firm manages these stoppages.
    This problem is resolved when sorting can occur based on the given status and length of time at this status.  For example, rather simply accepting a status of “waiting for information” without knowing what the issue is, a notes system can be used to help document why the work has stopped and what needs to be done to ensure efficient follow up and minimal restart time when the issue is resolved.
  1. STANDARDIZE PROCESSES. When there is no firm-wide standardization in tax workflow process, moving work from one staff member to another or one partner to another can be difficult and create additional issues with workflow stoppages.
    This problem is resolved by defining the most effective processes which fundamentally weeds out less than ideal or wasteful processes. The challenge is the act of making processes standardized for everyone in the firm without the use of workflow software. With the implementation of workflow software, the firm or project team identifies and reaches agreement on the various stages of work a client job (e.g. tax) goes through. Workflow software aids the firm by moving all [tax] work through the firm’s standardized process.  This becomes an objective process that can be measured, managed and improved over time.
  1. BALANCED WORKLOAD. Maximizing the use of all resources in the common start-stop mode of tax workflow challenges tax firms. One overtasked staff member can jeopardize multiple clients project due dates if this situation is not monitored and resolved with efficiency.
    This problem is resolved when it is easy to monitor staff workload capacity and ensure work is distributed evenly.  Additionally, having a view into the combination of task level budgets, actual time reporting at the task level and the ability to add an estimated time to complete a task where warranted are features that allow for a more intelligent rebalancing of the workload.

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About the Author

Don Emery, CPA, CA is Doc.It’s Director of Client Solutions. Doc.It provides document management, workflow and document storage products for accounting and tax firms of all sizes. Don leads the North America business development team and provides implementation consulting services to clients and assists clients with various issues. Don joined Doc.It in 2009 as an Implementation Specialist and was named Director of Client Solutions in 2012.