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Project Management: Getting Results and Seeing the Big Picture

Project-managementIt’s hard to believe I’m roughly one quarter of the way into my term as Chairman of the AICPA Board of Directors. In that role, I travel around the country extensively, meeting many members as I attend conferences, participate in meetings and give presentations, often at state CPA societies. I’m always excited to talk about the issues and opportunities facing our profession.  One area CPAs have been particularly eager to discuss is the concept of project management. And that was very interesting to me because I have long been a firm believer that strong project management skills are essential to getting your job done, growing your career and becoming an effective leader.

Project management pervades our everyday personal and professional lives, from planning a family trip to executing an important assignment. Successful CPAs balance a variety of competencies beyond their essential technical knowledge, and project management allows them to put this array of skills to work and even branch out into new ones. In fact, the accounting and project management professions are natural partners, cut from the same cloth. Both consist of defined standards, which encompass the knowledge, tools and techniques used to perform or demonstrate their respective skills. Although the leading standards of project management have existed for quite some time, it’s only recently that these standards and skills have come to be recognized as a central ingredient to success.

I can say from my own experience that after my firm utilized project management resources to expand our consulting practice, we recognized several critical opportunities that had previously gone undiscovered. Our firm’s continued growth had created opportunities for improved human resource management and performance management processes and systems; opportunities we had been missing. By further leveraging project management standards, we were able to achieve a new vision in these two areas and move our firm forward. The process and systems delivered by these projects continue to be utilized today to achieve strong management and development of our talented professionals.

McKinsey & Co. shows that many other organizations are finding similar value. “Leading organizations across sectors and geographic borders have been steadily embracing project management as a way to control spending and improve project results.”

Seeing project management at work first hand has led me to better appreciate that projects are not just about results, they’re about the results our clients expect. The reality is that clients and employers ultimately care about outcomes, with less concern about the process that brings those results. CPAs and firms that adopt a project management approach, however, can position themselves as knowledgeable advisers who offer far more than compliance assistance and who deliver results that hit the mark and benefit clients and employers.

Project management requires us to pull back from the task in front of us and get a perspective on how each piece fits into a bigger picture, and to see that even that picture is part of a larger mosaic. What does it take to move to a more project management approach? Communications skills, of course, will be crucial for overseeing multifaceted undertakings. According to a PMI report, 75% percent of high-performing organizations—the ones that meet their project goals on time and within budget—“communicate project information with sufficient clarity and detail.” Strong leadership abilities also will be necessary, as well as change management, negotiation and customer relationship management skills.

I also want to emphasize that a project management style is a great staff retention and development tool. Younger professionals are anxious to develop and demonstrate skills that will help them advance, and a stronger focus on teams working together on projects enables them to do so. It will also make for a more dynamic and interesting workplace, which will enhance firms’ and employers’ prospects in the increasingly competitive hiring market. Being involved in a multifaceted project allows CPAs to balance technical skills, including scheduling and risk and budget analysis, with other abilities, such as relationship building and public speaking.

Recognizing the opportunities that lie ahead, the AICPA is exploring how best to address CPAs’ project management training needs. We are looking at numerous education options for CPAs; watch for more information on related resources in the near future. I believe, and it has been my experience, that a project management focus will enrich all that CPAs have to offer and enhance our reputations as trusted business advisers to entities of all sizes. 

William E. Balhoff, CPA, CGMA, CFF, Chairman of the Board of Directors, American Institute of CPAs.

Project Management image via Shutterstock

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