7 Tips for Managing Large Tax Engagements During Busy Season

Jan 7th 2016
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When it comes to large tax engagements during busy season, ensuring all your team is on the same page will increase efficiency and reduce stress at the most critical time of the year. Some things are out of our control, but how we plan for unexpected deviations can make the process more manageable.

Here are a few tips that may help with your largest engagements.

1. Communicate Expectations
Reducing ambiguity is important to meet and exceed client expectations. Set specific dates that consider the location and availability of return signers, but always leave a cushion by assuming clients may not honor their goal dates.

Once client deliverable goal dates are set, communicate an earlier date to your team. This will ensure you can deal with scheduling conflicts that occur during busy season. Communicate all delivery dates to the entire team. Preparers must understand that if they miss deadlines, they risk their reviewers missing their deadlines.

2. Prepare Workpapers Ahead of Time
Consider what can be substantially completed prior to having final year-end financials. This may include fixed-asset depreciation schedules or other items where the majority of work can be completed earlier. Ask your preparers for feedback here; they know better than anyone what can be done ahead of time.

3. Define Roles of Each Team Member
Be sure the engagement team understands everyone’s roles. This ensures everybody knows who to ask for assistance and builds teamwork. Trust each person to do their job. Micromanaging prevents team members from taking ownership of their work. If they know you trust them, they are more likely to meet your expectations.

4. Discuss Progress and Reconfirm Expectations
When things do not go as planned, update your client and team about adjustments to delivery dates. Regular checks to ensure the engagement is on target is not micromanaging. Don’t get the two confused. Regular communication is important to work through challenges that arise with scheduling and unexpected research.

5. Expand Your Team to Provide Continuity
Turnover is a part of public accounting. It can be crippling if one person has too much institutional knowledge and workload for an engagement. Consider spreading the work around. For example, a family-owned business client may have an entity team and individual team. This would help mitigate the effects of attrition and scheduling conflicts.

6. Help Your Team When Needed
Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. If a team member must leave early, be ready to pitch in to keep work moving. If staff is working so hard that they don’t have time for a break, grab them a coffee or snack. If scheduling conflicts arise, work it out with your firm scheduler and your partners; avoid putting staff in the middle. Whatever they need to do the work, you must be ready, willing, and able to support them.

7. Debrief After Large Projects
Whenever you complete a large project, or pass a deadline, meet with your team to discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and what can be done better. Use their suggestions to refine engagement procedures.

One of our firm’s core values is to operate as one firm. This means we collaborate and motivate each other through stressful times and through the most complex client issues. Every team member is equally important. We hope these tips help minimize your team’s stress and help them focus on exceeding client expectations.