Go with the Flow: How to Communicate the Flow of Work in Finance

By Clinton Jones on August 12, 2015

Have you ever had someone come over to your desk or call you immediately after they’ve sent you an email?

social

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Chances are you have, and the reason it happens so often seems pretty clear – emails aren’t always effective.

What is most effective for business communications?

Using a social platform like Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr might open the gates for communication, or a business social product like Yammer, or Lync, the instant messenger application by Microsoft. Or there’s the preferred tool of the sales guys – Salesforce Chatter.

Some might argue that the beauty of email is that you can craft a message, enrich it with media, add flags or reminders and priority, and also provide attachments and hyperlinks.

However, the problem remains that email is asynchronous and every message is swallowed by a sea of other emails vying for attention.

What’s the best way for getting the message out?

For some people, email is more of a nuisance or convenient tool when they want to use it, rather than a preferred line of communication. For others, email is the number one medium for getting the message out, but the recurring challenge is that it isn’t necessarily effective.

All of these inconsistent messaging methods like chat, email and text create varying degrees of appropriate communication, and we’re forced to sift through the possibilities to determine the best solution for what we are trying to accomplish. For example, payroll updates sent via chat probably aren’t a good idea, however notifying people that the payroll run is completed is perhaps not a bad idea!

After a bit of research, (by no means exhaustive), I penned some thoughts on the flow of work in finance groups and how these relate to Winshuttle products.

Steady as she goes

For tasks that have a sedentary pace and no pressing urgency, you can use any method that makes sense and achieves the goal in a satisfactory time frame.

If complexity is low, and there aren’t many participants, a standalone user scenario or a workgroup scenario that uses standard out-of-the-box workflows might be best.

An example might be periodic data hygiene or maintenance activities like contact details maintenance, which is achievable using the Lean Data Management approach recommended by Winshuttle.

Time Crisis and fire drills

Activity that must be done immediately, and holds other work up is often a direct result from lack of a steady flow of work. Issues receiving a high profile might include a sale contingent on the creation of a customer account or a credit limit revision or an expedited payment. The time crisis approach to doing things is all-hands-to-the-pump to prevent the organization from burning to the ground.

Occasional fire-drills like this are normal, but when this begins to happen regularly, the steady pace is a permanent fire drill.

When you have a fire drill, the agility of Winshuttle products enables you to quickly make adjustments to data or extract actionable tactical data.

Because there is no need to involve IT in the creation of these objects, the scripts can be quickly created and implemented.

This approach is applicable across the board for individual users, workgroups and the enterprise, depending on the kind of licensing and process controls that are in place.

The Roller Coaster of Period Close

rollercoaster amusement park ride

The analogy that springs to mind when I think of period close, is a roller coaster – a mad flurry of activity among finance professionals in finance groups at the end of every period, quarter, mid year and Year-end.

A great deal of effort is spent on trying to get the numbers as close to final as possible, while working within a very tight time frame in order to provide content for review, as part of the analysis stage after the books have closed.

Some organizations focus on precision and detail, while others focus on timely reporting with substantial but not absolute precision (materiality). Other organizations have no particular focus at all, except that datasets must be delivered by specific dates in order to avoid cascading issues that could end in a corporate cataclysm.

There are a number of good approaches that can be used to subdue the rollercoaster, and the most important methods push the team to the next milestone in the process.

An approach to gather data in Excel seems obvious, as it’s portable, flexible, efficient and effective. Depending on the degree of sophistication of the template, this can also achieve extraordinary results in a rapidly short time frame, by using capabilities like data hygiene and data checking macros.

The data validation feature of Transaction scripts that you record will check the efficacy of entries from an SAP standpoint, but the checklist to determine if you’ve completed all the tasks can be handled in a variety of ways.

SAP’s Financial Closing Cockpit

sap_closing_cockpitSAP suggests using the Financial Closing Cockpit to accelerate your financial close, but this requires a degree of rigor that your finance group may not have or see value in (what’s important – precision or timeliness?). Part of the challenge with the SAP Financial Closing Cockpit is that it’s very SAP centric, and we know most Winshuttle customers often run more than just SAP.

While you can configure objects in the Financial Closing Cockpit, maintaining this is a bit of a mission, and within one stage, we had customers maintaining the FCC using a Winshuttle Script and Excel data.

One thing I’ve been mulling over lately is how the FCC could be conceived in Foundation.

Since period close is a regular occurrence and all the steps associated with it have deadlines, completion tasks and associated players with dependencies, defining a workflow should be fairly straightforward.

Does this add extra value? While several companies use FCC, many don’t, and the reasons aren’t always clear. When companies don’t use a mechanism like FCC, they tend to revert to Excel.

The second part to tracking progress is the distribution of information. An accelerated close needs a plan that will run like clockwork at every period end, and needs to be documented and tracked at every period close. This not only smooths out the process, but also establishes the players, tasks and steps, while assuring auditors that the checklist has been completed in the period close process.

In 2011, Deloitte produced a document that suggests social software was the missing link in Measurable Business Performance Improvements, but I would argue that what is usually missing is a clear and workable plan. It’s a good read not only in the context of twitter, micro blogs etc., but also in the context of Wikis and forums.

 

Where in the world is your close?

There are at least three different ways I believe finance teams establish where they are in the close process:

The bell – Everyone is notified by an email distribution of the state of progression. Unfortunately this only happens at milestones, or with such velocity that when the first problem is made public, there is an influx of emails, and the significance of the most important message is often diluted by all the noise.

The spyglass – Also considered as ‘the probe’ approach, this is a self-service inquiry. This is achieved when someone calls and asks questions about the process’ progression…. those waiting for a preceding step or steps to see how far pre-steps have progressed through a portal or dashboard, don’t have to constantly ping others. This can be valuable for those waiting, as knowing that a preceding step completed hours or days ago but no-one told them can be very frustrating.

The stand-up – I always think of this as a classic boiler-room scenario; it’s incredibly stressful and traumatic for those who don’t want to be in the stand-up, because there are others waiting on their work efforts. If you’re using a transparent approach, the only need for a stand-up is to shed light on blockers or issues that prevent you from completing your part of the process. It’s a great way to reduce  the average time to issue resolution, which might be one of your period end KPI’s.

Moen-ariticleIf you use the FCC or another similar approach, I’d love to know more about how you track period end tasks and distribute information – please contact me directly or post a comment at the end of this post.

In parallel, why not learn how the number one faucet brand in North America – Moen, improved their Capital Request Processes and enabled them to flow as smoothly as water from a new faucet using Winshuttle Foundation.


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About the author

Clinton Jones is a Director for Finance Solutions Management at Winshuttle where he has worked since 2009. He is internationally experienced having worked on finance technologies and business process with a particular focus on integrated business solutions in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America. Clinton serves as a technical consultant on technology and quality management as it relates to data and process management and governance for finance organizations globally. Prior to Winshuttle he served as a Technical Quality Manager at SAP and with Microsoft in their Global Foundation Services group.


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