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Accounting in an agile world

In today’s climate of remote working and technology-based business, a growing number of practitioners are experimenting with the agile approach in accountancy practice. 

5th Oct 2020
Community Assistant AccountingWEB
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Work flow with Kanban board.

The agile philosophy originated in the world of software programming and is based on some simple principles: divide the work and tackle it piece by piece while evaluating and adapting the schedule. It involves planning, feedback, and retrospective analysis on a continual basis.

In a recent AccountingWEB Live Great Debate, Rebecca Benneyworth explored the extent to which these concepts could be adapted to accountancy with PracticeWEB managing director Mike Crook and Soaring Falcon Accountancy founder Alex Falcon-Huerta.

“Agile favours that collaboration between your customer, a self-organising team, and a cross-functional team,” Mike Crook explained.

Brick by brick

Going back to first principles, Crook traced the movement to the Agile Manifesto published in 2001, when technology was moving rapidly forward and the industry was growing frustrated with outdated and slow development processes.

Before agile working was introduced, it could take months or years to actually reach the conclusion that was originally set out. 

As those with memories of turn-of-the-century business re-engineering projects may remember, by the time they were done the requirements were not there anymore or the customer need had moved on, Crook said.

Working collaboratively in smaller, more digestible increments with constant feedback from the client fosters an iterative process that delivers the desired results faster. Crook explained how the results work within his accounting website and marketing consultancy: “We’ll have a continuous collaboration between the people who are creating those services and our customer and the business… we can make sure that what we’re designing really meets the needs of the customer.”

“Things are going to change, so you have to adapt what you’re doing to meet those needs,” Crook added.

Keeping up with clients

During the live session, a viewer questioned whether the trendy buzzword “agile” was just another way to say “changing with the times”.

But for Rebecca Benneyworth, the method of agile working has been particularly apt during 2020, with companies having to adapt quickly and manage collaboratively in unchartered territories.

Having built her own practice during 2015, specialising in tech startups, Alex Falcon-Huerta reflected that today’s businesses require a much quicker and efficient pace of delivery. “Things have changed so fast in such a short space of time,” she said. More and more people are realising that it is entirely possible to produce faster results in a more efficient manner.

Benneyworth contrasted Falcon-Huerta’s experiences with her own introduction to the profession during the 1970s, where the “regimented” process of accounting focused primarily on the next rung of the ladder rather than what you were doing for your clients.

Another viewer contended that agile thinking goes against the concept of financial planning as many accountants understand it, which is usually traced against a set plan.

Benneyworth argued that the budgeting process was entirely iterative. For example, in her experience financial planning was actually “an agile process in action”. Finance managers had to learn and reflect on their results and then grow in response, the same way a software developer would respond to a client project.

Advancements in technology

New developments in technology troubled many traditional accounting firms in place when Falcon-Huerta launched her career. “Coming into the business and using the technology was heavy for them. It was up to me to lead that and give them some tools so that they didn’t feel too afraid.”

To those who are interested in applying an agile methodology, she advised taking it slowly and embedding one process at a time. “There are things to consider: the team, how they feel, how they’re going to implement it, then the clients - whether or not they’re going to embrace it.

“Ultimately the end result of any of this is why we’re doing it in the first place,” she said. “We want to deliver a better service, we want to have more efficient information going out, we want to have that ultimate delivery and be the best, and the only way to do that is to work back and implement all the tools you need to get there.”

Customer care

Although the tech aspects are undeniably important, Crook reassured viewers that the service itself was the critical part of being agile. The key to agile success is to understand what the customer wants and respond to any challenges that may arise along the way.

“Anybody can go out and get the technology and put it into their firm - it’s actually how you deliver the service and the way you package it up,” he said.

Crook introduced the idea of an agile “scrum” - a project management methodology based around a retrospective at the end of every two-week sprint. This gathering gives the team a chance to reflect and pinpoint what has been successful and what could be improved moving forward.

“That collaboration and continual improvement and self-autonomy the team should have is really important,” Crook explained.

For more information on how the agile ideology might work within your business, view the full webinar on AccountingWEB Live.

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