Building the firm of the future through Lean Six Sigma

By: 
Jun. 23, 2017

It has been said that the average lifespan of a business is anywhere from 10 to 40 years, a sobering statistic for any business leader. While some companies find themselves acquired or merged, others perish due to an unwillingness to change, innovate and stay ahead of the technology and competition in today's fast-paced world.

Change is not always easy, but our firm realizes that to continue to be successful, and attract and retain the best people, we need to evolve. The accounting firm of the future may not look like the firm of the past. Involving up-and-coming firm leaders in the business decisions of the operation helps us secure a strong foundation that brings us into our 45th year of serving the Sarasota community. We recognize that to stay nimble and competitive, we also need to implement practices to ensure we're operating to the best of our ability. That's why Kerkering Barberio has recently adopted Lean Six Sigma (LSS) to improve client service (internal and external) and increase efficiencies.

Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that combines the problem solving and quality enhancement techniques of Six Sigma with process improvement and efficiency concepts of lean. This discipline developed in the manufacturing sector, but has found its way into the professional services industry as a powerful tool for making organizations faster, more accurate and more effective for their clients.

At a Leading Edge Alliance conference last year, Eric Troyer, audit manager, and I learned from Dustin Hostetler, a Lean Six Sigma master black belt with Boomer Consulting, about the positive results of implementing the Lean Six Sigma methodology in accounting firms. I had been introduced to a similar process years ago, but didn't feel that the timing was quite right for our organization. Eric and I agreed that LSS could provide a great framework to increase efficiencies and service, so I took the concept to our board of directors for consideration. The board agreed that the large volume of processes we had acquired over the years would benefit from analysis and focus on improved service, and with that, we put a plan in place to train a core group of internal team members and begin with projects under our administrative and audit teams.

Last fall, Eric and three additional KB team members— Chief Administrative Officer Tracy O'Neill, Audit Supervisor Samantha Phillips and Audit Senior Matthew Rzepa — attended Boomer Consulting's four-day LSS Boot Camp at the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute to embark on the Green Belt certification process. Upon returning from training, the administrative and audit teams brainstormed projects that could be implemented to deliver greater value to our clients and more streamlined processes for our team members.

As we continue to immerse ourselves in the Lean Six Sigma process, it has been amazing to see that sometimes we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to habits and resistance to change. Taking a look at our workflows from a different perspective has already brought great value to our organization, which will translate into even better service to our clients.

If you've been exploring the Lean Six Sigma methodology in your organization, here are a few tips to consider in getting started:

1) Begin with buy-in. One of the biggest challenges in implementing new processes in a business that's been successful is the potential for resistance to change. Troyer recommends that it's best to approach this potential obstacle by starting your first project with a small team. “Having everyone participate as part of the group keeps them engaged and helps to ensure their buy-in to the Lean Six Sigma process and the resulting changes,” he explained.

2) Choose your first project wisely. It's better to start small to build confidence and affirm buy-in. When Samantha Phillips returned from training, her first objective was to work with the team to brainstorm which project they'd tackle first. “We were looking for a project that would be centered around a smaller team, but would have a big impact, and that's why we chose the planning phase of audit,” Sam said. “Planning flows through all phases of the audit process, so identifying waste and implementing future states in that area would allow us to see great results quickly.”

3) Make technology a central focus. In our industry, like many others, there's a maturity to the processes that surpasses the existence of technologies in place today that are designed to make those processes more efficient. Former Marine and Audit Senior Matthew Rzepa helped his team focus on reducing waste and avoiding duplicity. “We wanted to identify opportunities for movement and eliminating waste to get down to what was really essential,” he explained. “In many cases, we find technology has been implemented, but we haven't adjusted our processes to take advantage of the efficiencies. The Lean Six Sigma process provides an opportunity to step back and look at the tools utilized and how to best align technology to meet the needs of the client and internal team members more effectively.”

Rob Lane CPA is managing shareholder at Kerkering, Barberio & Co., one of Southwest Florida's largest locally owned accounting firms, with offices in Sarasota,

CEO Corner is a quarterly column written by members of the Gulf Coast CEO Forum. Learn more about the group at gulfcoastceoforum.com