Steps to Identify Opportunities for Efficiency in your Business

Throughout my career in private accounting, I have had many opportunities to implement process efficiencies relating to not only my position, but others’ as well. Often times the process changes that affected me the most are ones that I suggested for my coworkers.

I have repeated specific steps time and time again, within companies of varying industries and sizes, which resulted in reduced time requirements, increased accuracy and automation, decreased need for manual input, and an increase in overall enjoyment of tasks. Coworkers have always been appreciative of the unsolicited help they received, and in return, I experienced positive results as well.

Want to increase efficiency within your job/department/company? Here’s my process for how to get there:

 

Start by working with one task at a time.

Don’t hit the pavement running with a mindset that you want to have everything working fluidly within a week/month/quarter. This can lead you to feeling overwhelmed when you realize how many tasks could potentially be improved. Process improvement is just that….a process!

Pick one task that seems to bog you down the most. Whether it’s monotonous, data-entry heavy, consistently riddled with errors, or something you merely don’t enjoy. There are a multitude of reasons why a task may be requiring more of your time than it needs to.

Step back from the task and take a thorough look at it.

Many times we forget to think about the task at hand; as in truly think about the mechanics of it. We get so consumed with meeting deadlines, we get too comfortable with routine, or we’re new to a position and following the lead of our predecessor.

My philosophy is to never stop thinking! Even if I’ve improved one component and feel that now the task is a well-oiled machine, I stop and ask myself “What else might I be able to do better?” In my experience, for example, it can take doing a routine monthly task 3 or 4 times to work out all the kinks. Gaining a deep understanding of one component of a task can lead you to recognize a deficiency in another area.

Step even further back and look at the company as a whole.

Maybe there’s one task you have that you consistently struggle to finish on time. But it’s not your fault, right? The information you need must first come from an outside department and you have reiterated numerous times how critical it is to have that information by a certain day, otherwise you risk missing your deadline.

This step right here is a HUGE game changer. When you step back and look at where your task requirements are coming from and how they end up in your possession, you have the opportunity to help others improve their processes. And when their process improves, you are likely to see an improvement on your end as well.

The same can be said if you’re always re-working something because the person you hand it off to has to kick it back. Set aside some time to meet with them and ask them to explain what they need from you in such a way that you can more effectively deliver your product.

When others feel that you are trying to help them instead of being that grumpy person from such-and-such department, they will be more willing to listen to your needs in the future and work together more collaboratively.

That’s the golden ticket, folks. Collaboration. Working collectively so that everyone can enjoy their work and those they work with. When you have this, it is much easier to procure efficiencies.

Repeat.

Once you’ve worked on one task, move on to the next! But every time you do a task that has already gone through the steps above, take just a minute or so and ask yourself if there’s something you missed before. And if so, put it back through the ringer. Process improvement is never-ending. So challenge yourself to do it better every time!

 

These steps in real life.

I know these steps work because I have gone through them more times than I can count. Back in 2013 I worked for company that purchased distressed commercial real estate, spruced them up, and then managed the properties.

The accounting department was relatively small: an AR/AP clerk, assistant controller (me), controller, and CFO. I had already worked on many of my own tasks, but when month-end close came around, I was usually waiting around for all the tenant billings to be posted. And there were A LOT.

I asked our AP clerk if I could help in any way, and, as per the usual, I got a “Thanks, but there’s not really much you can help with.” She assured me it was a task that had to be completed by following their standard procedure.

I did not accept that this was the only way you could possibly bill a multitude of tenants. So when I had some down-time I Googled our property management software, found the user manual and help site, and dug my nose into it for a good half an hour.

Alas, I had struck gold! The program was capable of utilizing Excel uploads. Thankfully, Excel is my forte so I got to working on a template. After a few trial runs, I finally had a template that was user-friendly for any level and fairly straight-forward.

The next day, I asked the AP clerk if she had time that I could show her what I’d discovered. The template peeked her interest and the next month we gave it a go. We had great success. I asked her how long the billing took her with the previous procedure. “At least 8 hours.” I am proud to say that the new template allowed her to complete the same billing in only 30 minutes!

She was immensely appreciative of my suggestion and her demeanor towards the task improved greatly. It was no longer a daunting day-long chore for her. Thereafter, she would periodically ask me to review other tasks to see if I could improve on them as well.

As for me, I was no longer forced to wait on her in order to get my own work done. If you ask me, it was a Win-Win situation.