Art of Accounting: Planning a job
A lot of colleagues call me and complain that their staff are not doing as good a job as they need to. After a brief discussion, it appears the problem lies with the owner or partner because they have shortcut the planning process. This is not an isolated issue.
Everyone always seems to be perpetually rushed, particularly owners and partners, and they cut so-called nonessential parts of a project, which they consider excessive planning to be. Boy, are they off base, and their results show it. I’ve been there, and still am, so I know the feeling. Maybe I am myopic with this, but I have always planned meticulously. One reason was that I wanted the work done my way. Another is that it enabled me to visualize the entire project and anticipate problem areas. I also felt that the planning showed the staff my interest and commitment to getting the job done as well as possible. I found that my time supervising the work was greatly reduced by the planning, which paid huge dividends.
I am talking from experience. Planning works. Everyone managing a job, no matter how small, is running a mini business for that job. Budgeting the assignment, staffing, controlling quality, beating the deadline, on-the-job training, exceeding the client’s expectations and adding value are all parts of every project. The better planned the job is, the better organized it is and the better it gets done.
Planning takes time and focused concentration. It requires the understanding that you are sending people to distant lands to do your work and that the plan provides a way to begin, a path to travel, and a way to end the project. It also should include a time budget, trigger points when assistance might be needed and opportunities for training, initiative and empowerment. Planning is not micromanaging; it is setting forth a road map of how to proceed that can be changed as circumstances develop, while also leaving room for responsibility and accountability for changes to get the project completed as required.
Personally I type out my planning memo since it is easy to rearrange and add and eliminate what I might have written earlier. I also seem to think more thoroughly this way. Where necessary I also prepare a schedule on Excel where I list each step and a budgeted time for the staff person who will perform it. I try to make this as detailed as possible. It does take time, but that time is more than made up with more effective and efficient staff performance.
When I am finished, I meet with the project manager or senior staff person to review my plan and get their input. After the planning memo and budget are updated, I give it to them and it becomes their responsibility. I ask them to check in with me daily just so I have a sense of the progress. If I am overseeing a half dozen projects, that means I get six check-ins a day. That’s OK — that’s my job. It is also a lot less time consuming than if I had to directly supervise each step of each project.
My resources are being allocated and sent to do my work. Doesn’t it make sense to oversee it? That is what planning is about.
Do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your practice management questions or about engagements you might not be able to perform.
Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People list. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or email@example.com.