A cure for the WorkflowMax job list blues

So you’ve got those ol’ WorkflowMax job list blues? It’s time to turn that frown upside-down. Here’s a cure for what ails you.

Too much work

Out of the box, WorkflowMax forces you to create way too many jobs. A job isn’t merely a work code, like a description of the activity you undertook. It’s a project that has a start date and an end date. It has team members allocated to it and can be used to manage the workflow of individuals, teams and the practice as a whole. Turns out, accountants in public practice work on a lot of jobs!

What that translates to is clutter. It makes your job list unmanageable, because everything that you’ve ever worked on becomes a job for you. Most accountants we know want a job list just to manage the major tasks they are currently working on. They don’t want, for example, to start a job simply because they made a phone call that went a little long.

Breakdancing

Like most accountants, we enjoy breakdancing and recording all of our time.

For those of us that still kick it old-school, it’s not that you want to bill every unit of time you allocate to a job. But you at least want to record it for job costing purposes, not to mention for identifying capacity, monitoring productivity and so on. Maybe it’s just a case that old habits die hard. Perhaps we will completely revolutionise the way we record time and bill our clients sometime in the future. Even so, let’s do one thing at a time. Let’s get the software bedded down first and replicate what we’re currently doing. Then we’ll talk.

So for us, WorkflowMax was reduced to a time recording tool and nothing more. Jobs lists became too long and unwieldy. Even though it had promised so much, we weren’t using it to manage workflow at all. It was WorkflowMin.

We needed a solution. So the FGS team went into their laboratory to concoct a formula for making our work lists more manageable. This is what they came up with.

It isn’t a perfect solution still because ultimately we’re limited by the functionality of the application. We’re waiting for the day when some of the changes we’ve requested are implemented, so that WFM is a better fit for more traditional practices. We made a shortlist late last year of the major improvements we’d like to see. But for now, this works for us.

We’ve introduced two new jobs states which can be included in any job.

New job statesThe first is Time Accumulation. This job state usually appears near the very beginning, though it may not always be used that way. The point of it is to have a separate phase in the flow of work which is not attributable to a specific task.

The second job state we introduced is For Invoicing. This is usually the last job state before a job is set to completed. It reflects precisely what it says – that often a job may be finished but not invoiced until later in the month or beyond.

On the face of it these jobs states may seem neither here nor there. It’s what comes next that makes the difference. Because of the way WFM can notify staff about changes to a job, we have these two new job states set to notify our accounts manager when a job is changed to one of these states. She then goes into those jobs and makes herself the manager of them while at the same time removing the names of anyone else who might have worked on the job and is associated with it (more relevant for jobs that have been in the system for a while and are ready for invoicing than new jobs that have started with the Time Accumulation state).

Sometimes you have to jury-rig things to get the result you're looking for.

Sometimes you have to jury-rig things to get the result you’re looking for.

This may seem awkward and clunky (and to some extent it is) but it’s a serviceable workaround that achieves what we want. Our accounts manager does very little chargeable work and so doesn’t use her job list. And this is an admin task so it helps to move an administration intensive activity away from our chargeable people. From their perspective, it all happens automatically, making their lives easier. Any job where one of these states is used is removed from our accountants’ job lists, which become far more reflective of the actual state of their current workload, i.e. jobs they are actively working on.

What’s more, the For Invoicing job state, with its accompanying notification, proactively tells our accounts manager that an invoice is ready to be raised, instead of her having to chase it up or wait for someone to let her know. She can log in each day and immediately see a list of bills she can raise.

This is a great example of how (with a little lateral thinking at times) WFM can be made to work for traditional accounting practices like ours, and even help to improve them. The question is, could we have ever worked this out for ourselves? I’m glad we didn’t have to find out.

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Wisdom from the Sherpa

We’ve spent the last couple of months climbing a mountain. It’s time to hear from our guide.

This blog was conceived as a diary of sorts – our journey towards becoming an accounting practice of the future. The emotions and feelings, the new opportunities and limitations, any problems we might encounter and where possible the jubilation of triumphing over them – all of these will hopefully weave together over time to form a tapestry of the sights and sounds as they happen. You can probably tell I’d rather be writing for Lonely Planet! Alas, I am but a humble accountant and this is the best (only) outlet I have.

So far you’ve only seen things from my perspective. But in the coming weeks I hope to share the platform with other team members who are along for the ride.

We asked FGS for a file photo of Tim and this is what we got…maybe the lighting isn’t as good in our offices?

This time around though we’re privileged to transcend the plebeian ramblings of the pilgrims and hear directly from our guide and mentor, Tim Callcott from FGS. I thought it would be great to get some insight from the other side, and see how he thinks we’re travelling.

I’ve previously described Tim as our Sherpa, for the simple reason that changing systems can seem like difficult country, and having a guide who knows the terrain and its unique ‘personality’ makes all the difference. FGS have shown that much like leading someone towards a mountain-top experience, they’re committed to seeing us come through not merely unscathed, but actually enlightened.

It’s important to note though that FGS have no interest in this account – other than to make sure they do the best job they can at what they’re doing. After all, the outcome is being dissected publicly here on a weekly basis! Our own posts come unsolicited and unbiased. But while the ‘straight dope’ is our goal, Tim’s contribution here is entirely his own work.

So without further ado, here’s what Tim had to say – copied and pasted directly from his original.

I guess it is about time I had a crack at getting something on this blog.  John is doing an awesome job (who knew an Accountant could write so well) but from time to time, another perspective is needed.

It is a lot of fun working with the team at Dewings.  When John signed off on the proposal, his words to me were…

“Better buckle up mate.  You’ve never seen a practice quite like ours!”

Well, it turns we have and we haven’t.  The team at FGS have been working with accounting firms across Australia for a long time now.  And there is very little that we come across that surprises us anymore.  Not because we are jaded or cynical.  Not at all.

Instead, we have learned that every firm is unique.  And needs to be treated that way.  Where one firm manages its workflow or creates a marketing piece in a particular way, another does it completely the opposite way.

A one size fits all approach doesn’t work.  It never has and it never will.

Sure, there are core principles that apply to each and every firm – ultimately, they are all offering the same range of services.  And for any accountants reading this who scream “but we are different”, the context of this statement is that you don’t offer dental services or carpet cleaning.  You are accountants and you offer accounting related services.

At FGS, we have a view of what these core principles are and also an opinion on the firm of the future – what it looks like, how it operates and how to get there.  We infuse our advice with this view.  We elaborate when asked for more information.  We never ram it down our clients’ throats.  This makes us a valuable partner for our clients.

Anyway, back to Dewings……

Barely a day goes by that we don’t get a phone call or an email with a well thought out, interesting question from one of the Dewings team.  Sometimes, we must be on speed dial!

We love the fact that the team goes to the Help Menu first.  We really like that they generally have a go at solving the problem themselves first.  And finally, they turn to us.

Because we have worked with so many Accounting firms on their transition to WorkflowMax and Xero, if we don’t immediately know the answer, then we have an incredible database of resources to access.  We are also proud of our relationship with Xero and WorkflowMax – knowing who to turn to for the best answer is a valuable resource!

And so far, we have nailed every question that the Dewings team has asked us.  Sometimes there is a simple answer (like the sub-accounts question from an earlier post) and sometimes, we have to create a work-around because the software simply cannot or won’t do what Dewings want it to.  

That’s OK though because Dewings also want to get our feedback on their operations and a new system and range of software is the perfect opportunity to update procedures and thinking patterns.

Finally, I know John is writing a “warts and all” style of story.  And I have thought and thought about any Dewings warts I could let you in on.  I am afraid there simply aren’t any at this stage.

Although, now that I think about it…….timesheets and the need to record ALL time could be close (nudge nudge, cheeky grin)

Might save that for my next post though.