What on earth are “workflow diagrams” and why are they something accountants should care about?
It’s a fair enough question, and the short answer is: They’re a visual representation of how work gets done in your firm. More specifically, it’s mapping out each step for every service and/or process of your business.
Success, as an accountant, comes from consistency. Specifically, improving your processes over time. Whether you're an accountant, bookkeeper, CPA firm or practice owner, or Enrolled Agent, creating and setting up a proper workflow diagram can be challenging!
If you missed the previous video on setting up a workflow diagram, please view below: The most important thing is to start.
Choosing Workflows to Diagram
Decision to start? Check. Now, it’s time to choose which diagram to create first. But it’s not just anything. The first workflows to diagram are those things your firm does frequently.
Example: A tax and audit firm.
High priority services/processes would include:
- Temp/seasonal hiring: Feel like each year you’re struggling to get quality help onboard before the rush? Having the plan in front of you helps.
- The tax prep: Accountants have to know how to do taxes. Comes with the territory. But exactly how these things go from new clients to filed paperwork varies from finance pro to another. If you want everyone on the team to do certain things the same way, a diagram instills this consistency.
- Deliverable delivery and follow-up: Sometimes it’s tough to get everything out the door, but this is the best time to improve the relationship and possibly increase the revenue from these clients. Having a solid process could mean a higher lifetime client value.
Note: Obviously, this is just a spackling of things you do. List out every process, one-by-one. Next, you can filter them a bit (which we cover in the next section).
Components of a Workflow Diagram
Three Categories of Processes in Your Firm
Not to typecast your firm, but most (if not all) of your workflows will fit into three broad types or categories:
- Onboarding: Getting everything you need from the client and handing it over to the right person/people who’ll do the work.
- Service fulfillment: How the work gets done, reviewed/quality-checked. (Note: Each service or package you offer would likely need its own diagram.)
- Post service: The step of moving completed work and delivering it to the client.
Looking at your list of processes and services, quickly sort them into where they fit in these categories. Then, think about which ones you do most often (again, these high-traffic workflows are the best ones to complete first).
Four Task Types within a Diagram
Again, painting with a consolidated and broad brush. That said, most individual tasks that belong to a service fall into four types:
- Client step: Things your client must do in the process
- Internal step: Things your firm does in the process at hand
- Review step: Quality control elements to the process
- Meeting/phone call: Whatever steps require you and the client to meet (physically or digitally)
Think of the categories (onboarding, fulfillment, post service) and task types (client, internal, review, meeting) as the skeleton or template.
How to Diagram a Workflow
Jot Each Step in the Process
With the list of services nearby, it’s time to begin the visualization of each thing you do in your firm.
Get in front of your preferred medium. Could be paper and pen, fresh doc or spreadsheet, whiteboard, even a mind-mapping tool or app. At the top of your weapon of choice, write/type the name of the first process or service on your list.
Start jotting down anything and everything to get the process out of your head! It's important to identify each step, and if you have a team, be sure to involve them in the process of creating your first workflow.
You’re likely not getting too micro here. There are dozens of little tasks that need to be accounted for, but not necessarily listed in your workflow diagram.
How about an example?
A good diagram of steps for new client onboarding would be:
- Request needed documents/logins from client.
- Client delivers requested items.
- Confirm everything was sent.
A cluttered diagram may look like:
- QBO login
- Request payroll information
- Insert 10 more documents here
- Client delivers requested items
- Confirm QBO login works
- Confirm documents 1-10
You get the idea.
Note: If the workflow tool you use also has a good task management system, it’s sometimes a good idea to get granular. Especially true when you’re improving the process. For instance, if 7 out of 10 new clients fail to send over a specific thing on the first go—it’s probably a communication issue.
Create a Usable Diagram
After everything is listed, it shouldn’t be difficult to determine the correct order. From there, you’ll create a linear series of boxes (much like the example image). Some critical tips for creating the best map include:
- Think “Yes” and “No”: Sometimes, the process has to stop and return to a previous step. For instance, in the example image, when reviewing what the client sent your team finds they don’t have a specific login, they’ll have to start over by requesting that from the client. Think about potential hiccups and where that’ll send that particular project backwards.
- Color coding is your friend: Blue for things your client does. Red for things you do “in-house.” Purple for meetings. Whatever colors float your boat. Just choose some and stick with them until everyone knows the color they’re responsible to complete.
- Subprocess tasks: Not to negate the point about getting too granular, but while you’re mapping the big picture, it’s also good to know the individual tasks involved. These are things we all need to ensure the product we deliver is consistent and high-quality.
How to Use Your Workflow Diagrams
Workflow diagrams allow many firms to add a step between big service or process and individual tasks. Imagine giving directions by saying “it’s 478 steps away” without adding in how many turns (and where they are)?
If the service is your destination, and tasks are the steps to get there, a workflow diagram is the map showing all the turns you and your clients take. Of course, once your map is put together you may notice a quicker route.
Here are a few ways to use a workflow diagram to improve your accounting firm:
- Identify bottlenecks: Things that slow a process down are called bottlenecks. The first step to solving a bottleneck is to identify it. A diagram helps you see these issues much more clearly.
- Improve client experience: These diagrams are a great way to document and think about each interaction a client has with your company. You may not be talking with them enough, or in the way they prefer.
- Improve firm culture: Travel is stressful when you have a destination, but no clear direction. The map helps, and finding out the best order of getting things done makes many accountants happier.
- Increase value to clients: Two of the best examples are improving communication and reducing bottlenecks. Your clients will have better expectations and on-time deliverables.
- Design the ideal workflow: These diagrams visually represent a process, but you’re really trying to create the ideal workflow design. An orchestrated way for everything to happen in your business.
Diagrams Made Easier with Workflow Software
Creating workflow diagrams gives you, your clients, and your team a map to quickly traverse everything your firm does. Having a hub for all processes and services also gives you confidence that things are getting done properly.
A workflow software, like Jetpack Workflow, gives you the ability to see exactly where your firm sits on current projects, team capacity, and even individual tasks. If you’re ready to begin mapping out your workflow—signup for a free 14-day trial.