We hear the words ‘optimisation’ and ‘efficiency’ thrown around a lot. But what do they really mean? And more importantly, how is optimisation and efficiency actually achieved?
In its simplest form, optimisation is making the best use out of a situation or a resource. Optimisation isn’t just finding a tool to replicate your current processes, it’s reimagining the way you get to that end result. It centers around increasing efficiencies, saving time, eliminating unnecessary steps and/or automating steps to reduce errors. Imagine you are starting with a blank slate –what steps are necessary and which ones aren’t?
Taking the above and looking at it through a practice lens, it’s hard to see the downside of optimising. By identifying and taking stock of your pain points and actively working to overcome them, it allows your practice to focus on what matters most – your clients. This also has a positive impact on your practice staff’s job satisfaction and retention because it saves them time on arduous, manual tasks; and empowers them to focus their attention on other more complex tasks.
The above sounds great, but knowing where to start can be pretty tricky and daunting to think about. So, I want to share with you some ways you can begin to approach optimising your practice.
Understand where you are now
If you want to get to that bliss-state level of optimisation, the first step is understanding and being super honest about where you are right now.
Take the time within your practice to get a really good understanding of what processes are in place, from how you market your practice and create engagement letters, to how you request information from your clients or how you process GST and end of year financial reports. Get input from your team – everyone has a different lens.
Once you’ve identified your key processes, map out and document the individual steps that are currently included within each process from A to Z. Then use this to identify your pain points or tasks that are currently completed manually.
This is a time to get really curious about your business. Investigate whether there are processes that could be modernised or even removed entirely.
Make sure you challenge yourself regarding each step. If you feel like a step within a current process is important, ask yourself why it’s so important to you. Is it because you’ve always done it that way? Is there a better way of producing the same result? Similarly, if there are reports or tools that you use as part of those processes, ask yourself how these currently serve that process.
The end result of a process mapping exercise should be a deep understanding of your current processes, which you can then use to document your key requirements for a solution. It’s a good idea to give each requirement a rating of importance so that you can distinguish between your ‘must haves’ and your ‘nice to haves’.
Top tips for a process mapping exercise
- Involve as many people across the practice as possible. It’s important to get input from all business areas to ensure you’re accurately capturing current processes and pain points.
- There are plenty of specific apps that you can use to document your current processes – my favourites are LucidChart and Miro (basic versions are free too).
- If you don’t have the internal resources or time to complete this exercise yourself, consider involving an expert – a neutral third party can sometimes produce the best results.
You can then use the key requirements and pain points identified in your process mapping exercise to assess the various tools and apps to help optimise your practice processes.
So, what’s the best way to find a solution when there are so many out there? For accounting practices, I believe the most effective way to find out is to ask your peers. Whether it’s through the Xero Communities or at networking events – odds are that if you’re feeling a pain point within a process, there’s someone else who’s been through the same issue and has found their solution.
There’s an app for that
The Xero App Store has some brilliant accounting practice app solutions. Once you think you’ve found a potential tool or app – really dig into it, get a demo and assess the key features of that solution against your process maps and key requirements. Don’t be afraid to ask the solution provider questions, or ask to chat with one of their current customers.
It’s very rare to find a software solution that will tick all of your boxes unless you’re keen to spend lots of money on a custom solution. So be prepared to let go of a few of your less important requirements in order to get the solution that fulfils most of your requirements.
To help you on your way, here are my current favourite solutions for some of the more common processes within an accounting practice.
- Hubdoc for importing and converting bills
- Boma for digital marketing
- Practice Ignition for engagement letters and proposals
- CAS360 or Connectworks for AML and companies and trust compliance
- Spotlight or Fathom for in depth reporting and forecasting
Continue looking for improvement
I’d love to tell you that this is a one-and-done process but it’s not. Optimising your practice is an ever evolving journey. You should regularly be assessing, adjusting and optimising your practice processes to ensure that you’re always looking for maximum efficiency within your practice. For best results, be inclusive and involve your team. Make sure that everyone is comfortable knowing that they can sing out when they’ve got a problem within a process or have a solution.
As a final thought, I’ll leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein that perfectly encompasses the sentiment around optimisation – “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results“.