I’m working for a rather large client right now to help them build out a corporate infrastructure in a newly created headquarters operation. There is a lot of involved, in depth accounting required. However, because of turnover they have realized that they must document their accounting and finance processes, policies and procedures. This is an enormous job that we will be undertaking. Many businesses, large and small, simply do not have an accounting manual or anything close to that.
Let’s imagine that tomorrow, your boss comes to you and says you need to create an Accounting Manual and an Operations Manual and you have three months to get it done. Where would you start?
First, don’t start from ‘Ground Zero’. Take a look at Steven Bragg’s work which can be found at http://www.wiley.com. I have his Fifth Edition of Accounting Policies & Procedures and it is a great publication. Use its’ many templates and forms and customize them to your particular company. You will be light years ahead of starting from scratch. There are other manuals you might already have on your bookshelf. Many of them are really very good.
Second, don’t think you can just copy your documentation verbatim. To document processes and procedures, you have to spend time interviewing people who are involved in the work you are documenting. You will quickly find that not everything in a book you are using relates directly to your line of business. You must CUSTOMIZE, CUSTOMIZE, CUSTOMIZE. That takes time. However, if you don’t you will be caught in the act of short cutting your way through the project. USER input is critical. Users will need to test your processes & procedures for relevance and accuracy. Users will have to keep you updated on changes in a process, policy or procedure. You might consider forming a USER Committee to help you build the necessary manuals.
Third, three months is an ambitious timeline for such a large project. If you have a Microsoft Exchange Server you might want to use a shared drive to put your documentation out there for employees in an electronic form. (Always check with your I.T. department before you begin uploading to the drive). If you have a website, take a look at getting your employees behind a locked door requiring log-in with user name and password required. (Be sure you get the o.k. from your I.T. Department).
Fourth, you must realize that an Accounting Manual or Operations Manual cannot become a static set of documents. Don’t pat yourself on the back and think ‘job well done’ when the deadline is met. The end of the project timeline also means the beginning of a commitment to update, edit and modify the manuals you and your committee have created. Obviously, it would be much easier if it was all in electronic form. Doing the same for printed manuals is almost impossible in a big company because of the large number of books that may have to be updated, reprinted and distributed.
It’s quite a project but the payoff should be substantial. Truthfully, you may have a working manual at the end of ninety days, but you probably still have work to refine it. Remember, as controller, you simply don’t have the time to do it all. Delegating some of this work, with your oversight, will be key to meeting any deadline you might have.