Accounting is made up of a revolving schedule of deadlines. With so many moving parts how does a business owner keep up? How do companies handle all of their accounting deadlines? At our firm we have a full calendar of accounting projects. We meet deadlines with meticulous planning. This is a deep dive into project management and accounting.
In this article:
- 4 tools and techniques for planning accounting projects
- A breakdown of how we organize accounting projects
- A scheduling walk-through of our month end close procedure, using the task management tool Asana
4 Tools and Techniques for Planning Accounting Projects
Here are solid techniques for planning accounting projects. Complete with pro tips for entrepreneurs doing DIY accounting, and management accountants running projects with a team:
1. Leverage managerial tools and project planning systems
It doesn’t have to be a strict system, rather something that helps get things done. Choose a method that can fulfill the most important parts of organization: manage time, set due dates, and track workload. We borrow ideas from the book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland. It talks about the difficulty of estimating hours for tasks. Instead use a numeric point scale, to measure the workload. We apply this agile timing tactic to our task lists.
Task management tools can help with the planning process. In one location, team members can: schedule, manage tasks, track time, store and transfer files, communicate, and integrate into different working platforms. This is a managerial tool that save times by centralizing the accounting project. One note, a task management subscription will not save a failing project. Organizational apps don’t replace the project planning process.
Entrepreneur: Have a future outlook when implementing a planning system. You want something that will flourish with the business. If you are going for a task management tool, review how it can be integrated into your business.
Management Accountants: Have a system that can track team workload in one main frame, accessible by all. The project unfolds naturally, with a window into deliverables due from each person.
2. Know your accounting deadlines
This should go without saying, make a note of all deadlines. Relying on memory is not a full proof method. Businesses have accounting due dates every month: bills, vendor payments, payroll, financial statements, taxes, etc. Knowing what’s coming will help in avoiding penalties. You won’t be excused from a fine just because you are unaware of a due date.
Part of knowing accounting deadlines is being time-efficient. Making a time estimate solidifies the project on your calendar. Give yourself a generous window of time to accomplish the project. We add one and a half time to all campaigns, as a healthy buffer. In case something goes wrong, there is time to change course. If the project is new, try using a time tracker while working. This shows exactly how long it takes to do something, for better estimates in the future.
Entrepreneur: Accounting due dates sneak up on small business owners. Often they are splitting time between multiple responsibilities. Set realistic project timelines, and get intimately familiar with important deadlines.
Management Accountants: Mark accounting deadlines with another team member, to create accountability. With more people aware of the project, a timely completion is more likely.
3. Get detailed with task planning
We meet deadlines because of our detailed task planning. For our process we apply agile thinking to accounting projects and task lists. Being Agile is more than just a buzzword. It is an organizational method to ensure productivity from beginning to end. Our projects are broken down into chunks or sprints. They have a deliverable at the end of each sprint. With the final sprint culminating at the accounting deadline.
We call breaking down projects braindumping. It is an outline of time management steps to reach a project deliverable. This outline needs to be thorough. Estimate the time it takes to do each task, and what date the task should be achieved. Don’t forget to add buffer time to tasks! We advise doing the braindump in one sitting. This will increase memory retention, and reinforce dedication to the accounting deadline.
Entrepreneur: If you are serving multiple functions for the business, don’t be afraid of batch processing accounting tasks. For example, maybe one day you are taking care of all client communication for the week. The next day, you can get back to polishing tax forms. For recurring accounting projects, archive your planning process. That way you can easily duplicate it next time.
Management Accountants: Get another teammate to review the task list. Project management and accounting requires constant participation, so details aren’t missed.
4. Visualize the project workload
Take a birds eye view of all tasks to ensure the ability to finish. We are human, and there is only so much time in a day. We like to prioritize tasks, so that little by little something gets done. There is always an opportunity to complete tasks that are independent of others, while other parts of the project are on stand-by.
Even more, we ease heavy workload days by flexing the time window. That way, we are able to stretch a task over a longer period. This will prevent a burnout and meet the accounting deadline. When something is completed, celebrate!
Entrepreneur: If the accounting project has you in over your head, perform a project management audit. There may not have been enough details in the planning stage, or the order of tasks was jumbled. If it is a personnel issue, consider hiring someone to help with accounting.
Management Accountants: Keep trusted and able bodies close, in case @#$% hits the fan. Delegate responsibilities, and pave a clear channel of approval. For accounting team members who wear multiple hats, ease their non-accounting duties by bringing in alternate staff.
Depending on the setup of your business, allow remote work for major accounting projects. It is less stress getting to the office, and added time to get work done. Schedule weekly meetings for a sense of progress. If one team member is experiencing issues, a meeting can bring outside input.
How to Organize Accounting Projects
We put a system in place to prevent failure. Instead of missing an accounting deadline and saying “we need to multitask and work harder.” Our system leverages the task management tool Asana. The notifications always keep us on top of tasks. Here is our process:
Braindumping the Accounting Project
The best approach in the initial planning stage—divide all accounting responsibilities into major categories and the steps to achieve them. Get as detailed as possible with the time management steps.
What do I need to do to ensure this responsibility is met?
What are the steps I need to take?
How long will it take me to finish?
Braindump example: We file all projects into these 3 categories
- Month end closing procedure = Closing out the accounting period for our clients. Steps in this project requires action throughout the month.
- Ad-Hoc or large projects – Takes more than 8 hours to complete.
- Recurring tasks or one off tasks – Takes less than 8 hours to complete
Month End Closing Project Example in Asana
Asana is our favored accounting project planning tool for effective task prioritization. We assign tasks to team members and monitor progress. The enhanced features help to visualize project workload. Plus numerous integrations that streamline the accounting workflow. This is how we organize a financial month end close:
Month End Closing Procedure Tasklist
After braindumping you should have a list of accounting projects for your business. You’ll need to further break down each of project into a task list. Below you see the task list for our month end closing project. It is broken into 4 phases: Document Request, Transaction Entry, Accrual Adjustments, and Financial Working Paper Prep. Then further broken down into bulleted steps to achieve each phase. A diamond marks a completion milestone.
Phase 1: Document Request
- Download bank statements
- Confirm transactions are in the accounting software
- Expense reports from employees
- Email vendor for estimated expense if they have not provided a bill
- Update list of major approved vendors
- Accrue stock options expenses
- Are all customer invoices matching statement of work (SOW) signed by clients
Phase 2: Transaction Entry
- Commission calculation
- Enter payroll Journal Entry
- Enter all outstanding bills
- Record client deposits and wires against invoices
- Record all expense transactions against vendor bills
- Calculate Use Tax for expenses
Phase 3: Accrual Adjustments
- Perform General Ledger Review
- Bank Reconciliation
- Revenue and deferred revenue recognition
- Vendor prepayment recognition
- Accrual for unpaid wages or commissions
- Accrual for yet to be paid expenses
- Depreciation schedule for assets
- Interest recognition for loans
Phase 4: Final Working Paper Prep
- Bank reconciliation
- Sales tax ledger reconciliation
- AP ledger reconciliation
- AR ledger reconciliation
- Depreciation schedule reconciliation
- Revenue recognition schedule reconciliation
Using the List Feature in Asana
Input the task list into Asana. Designate titles, tasks, and milestones. Don’t forget to add the time it will take you to achieve each task.
Using the Timeline Feature in Asana
Move to the Timeline feature. Creating a timeline will map out the project and give you an overview of the workflow. You will notice: listed items populated on the right, and the project phases on the left; a scrolling calendar and options menu on the top.
Mapping Out Dependencies in the Asana Timeline Feature
Next let’s set dependencies for the month end close tasks. What are dependencies? Tasks that rely on other tasks for completion. Some items are independent of others. Others are blockers for many levels of tasks. Planning dependencies helps you see a clear picture of how all tasks in a project relate.
For Example: Can we record transactions on a business credit card without understanding what employees spent the money on? That is a hard NO. If you can’t record the expenses, you can’t provide final financial statements that are accurate. So the financial statements are dependent on expense records.
Start creating your project Timeline. Drag any task from the right column to the date on the calendar bar. Make sure to drag tasks to the line of corresponding phases on the left.
Designate time to tasks by first selecting the time drop down box on the top navigation bar. You have the choice of days, weeks, months, quarters, 6 months, and years. Stretch or shrink the task box across the calendar to increase or decrease time. Create a dependency by clicking the circular icon on the task and link it to the dependent task. An arrow will appear showing the order of tasks.
Enter all tasks in this manner until you have the entire project in Timeline. Make sure that the culmination of all tasks, in each phase, link to a milestone. So the next phase can begin, and the accounting project reaches completion.
Using the Portfolio Feature in Asana
To get to the Portfolio feature, click in the main black menu on the left. In Portfolio you have a view of all accounting projects loaded into Asana. This is our quintessential managerial tool in the accounting department. You will see the project status, progress, dates, priority (high-low), and assigned team members.
Using the Portfolio Timeline Feature in Asana
In Portfolio Timeline feature see how projects lineup for the month/year. This gives you an opportunity to adjust projects and reduce workload. We like to have minimal overlap with our projects.
Using the Portfolio Workload Feature in Asana
In the Portfolio Workload feature, see all daily tasks from all projects. It is great for determining whether the tasks scheduled can be achieved. You’ll see a workload graph that has peaks of red and purple. Days in the red have a high workload needing adjustment. By spreading out longer tasks and shrinking shorter tasks, we minimize the daily workload. WARNING: don’t go past the Milestone dates.
Meet the Accounting Deadline
Hitting accounting deadlines is all about the plan. The process is part structure, part motivation, and all getting tasks done. We know these tips will help your next project. If you have spare time we highly recommend looking into agile sprints for financial accounting projects. Remember: a managerial tool will help you organize BUT won’t do project management and accounting for you. Develop a method that integrates with your business seamlessly. With practice, task management steps get easier. Best of all, you stay penalty free.