More than a couple of decades ago, a suburban daily newspaper publisher convened his editorial staff at a local restaurant to elicit ideas for selecting the best community to live in within the readership area.

After a speech by an academic the owner had brought in, the staff divided into groups to formulate recommendations and to elect spokespersons to report back.

My group, which included a woman who was known to everybody but me to be the owner's wife, selected me as its mouthpiece and our conclusion was it was an impossible task. I remember saying that we could not select the best places to live when there were rich communities that didn't want paved roads or sewers so they could maintain a rural atmosphere. Could these be compared to communities that had and wanted them? Which was best?

Of course, the answer is that it depends on the values of the people living there. And whatever this did for my career (none of the other groups hit the question that head on) that meeting was the last time anybody heard a word about the proposed contest.

This conclusion fits the tax and accounting market because there are so many different kinds of firms which different client bases with different goals. What is a best practice in one firm doesn't fit another of a different size. Best is something that is defined by what is best for reaching a particular goal and goals are based on values.

It was a more recent revelation for me--yesterday to be exact--that best practices can vary from tax return to tax return.

That came from a conversation from Bruce Andersen, a Los Angeles-area CPA, who noted than when it comes to simple returns, a document management system is overkill. For many of these, he simply scans his notes since he will only look at this once over the next year. That's all the document management that's needed in these cases.

Enthusiasm for technology can easily turn into overkill, produced by a one-size-fits-all mentality. The way out of this is often to understand the process before running off to CompUsa or telephoning Dell.

Understanding processes, of course, is important to business. But often in understanding processes, and making the judgments needed to improve them, we need to understand that they are rooted in what is important to people.

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