Projects and workflow are a critical part of your firm. In this free 20 minute webinar, let us show you the best ways to get off the ground and “work as one” inside OfficeTools!
Projects and workflow are a critical part of your firm. In this free 20 minute webinar, let us show you the best ways to get off the ground and "work as one" inside OfficeTools!
About Free Training Thursday: Since the start of 2017, we have been holding these free 20 minute trainings hosted by our industry-leading experts and innovators who will teach you about AbacusLaw, Amicus Attorney, ResultsCRM, OfficeTools, Abacus Private Cloud, and more. If you would like to request a topic, please firstname.lastname@example.org.
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All right, good morning, everyone. Welcome to Free Training Thursday. Today's topic is getting started with projects. So just wanted you guys to be aware of that. If you guys have questions, go ahead and fill those in as normal. Towards the end, last 10 minutes or so, we'll go ahead and get into those questions that you guys have. Getting started with projects is a little bit tricky here, because we're going to go over things that are more top level, so there's kind of an introductory period that we're going to struggle with here. Probably a lot of you have either seen projects or have used it a little bit before, so bear with us as we kind of go through some of the basics and get familiar with some of the terminology and that type of thing. So again, if you guys have questions, feel free to just jot those down in that little question section, and we'll get back to those towards the end of the webinar here.
We have a couple of things we're going to try to cover today. Here is kind of the idea. What is a project? Projects versus assignments, the difference between the two. Concurrent versus sequential when it comes to your assignment groups and how they're going to interact with the project. Project versus work codes. I actually just did a training and had a question on that specific comparison there. Basic workflow process. I'm going to kind of go through a step-by-step on how a workflow should look inside of Office Tools and then, some of the beginning project reports, get you guys familiar with some of the basics there. After the webinar, if you guys need any help, here are some of the websites. Abicusnext.com/support. If you want to look at the upcoming webinars, abicusnext.com/webinars. Just have some more information. If you guys need anything after this or have additional questions, want to go over a different topic, anything that you guys have, go ahead and email us. You can do that at email@example.com. Feel free to also email me directly, firstname.lastname@example.org. Either way will get you to our team, and we'll go ahead and address any sort of questions that you guys have.
So, without further ado, we're going to go ahead and jump into the webinar itself. We're going to get into the programs. So the first thing that we have here for getting started with projects is the foundational question, which is, what is a project? What are we talking about when we talk about projects? There are a lot of different software out there with different definitions as far as what a project is. You probably came from something that had some sort of project. You're using an Excel spreadsheet, something. Projects are just that. Now, because they are very specifically designed in an Office Tools manner, this is typically the area that needs the most time spent on it. So, let's address what a project actually is.
Very simply and directly, it can be defined as a multiple step, multiple staff member activity. Meaning that there are more than one person involved in the process, and the process itself has more than one step. So things like tax returns. Things like bookkeeping. Things like accounting work. All that type of stuff can be considered projects. So it's very easy. When you guys are sitting down, coming up with what you guys want your projects to be, use that as a criteria. So it's going to be the multiple step, multiple staff member types of jobs. If you have something that is a single step or a single staff member type of job, that's going to be more of like a to-do or a phone call, maybe an appointment. Those other types of tasks encompass those single step, single staff member jobs. So when you're coming up with your list of what you want as far as projects are concerned, utilize that criteria. Projects are, in a nutshell, multiple step, multiple staff member activities.
A sub-level of the requirements there is that you're going to want to be able to track a due date within the project. Typically, your jobs are going to have due dates, but especially when they're due dates that you need to track, like the due dates for tax returns are very specific. You can't miss them. You get penalties. Due dates for tax notices that come in. You get penalties, right? So those types of jobs that you want to make sure you're not missing specific due dates on, that's also a pretty good indication that you're going to want to use a project for it. Top level, multiple step, multiple staff member activities. Underneath that, a little bit of a kind of sub-requirement is that it's a due date driven task. That's going to be what a project is.
Now, as we just said, a project consists of multiple people being involved, but it also consists of multiple steps. Now, those multiple steps inside of Office Tools are called assignments. Inside of our program here, if we go up to the Setup menu and we go down to Projects here, you're going to see an option in here called Project Assignment Group. So for those of you guys, once you come up with those multiple step, multiple staff member jobs, you're going to come into the project assignment group section, and this is actually going to be where you build out what we call your workflow. Your workflow consists of the individual steps that it takes to complete a specific type of project. For example, if I drop my menu down up here at the top and let's just say I choose the 1040 individual tax return project. Now, I chose my 1040. Over here on the left, I have all of my available assignments. The assignments are the steps that it takes to complete the job. One thing you have to be very careful of inside of here, and this is something that a lot of offices, as they implement, get hung up on, your assignments are not status. So this is not where you're putting status type things.
What you want to try to do with your assignments is come up with verbs, action words, things that you would actually assign to a staff member. That's going to be the important part. You're not going to assign status. Status gets assigned to the job, not to the person. So you want to make sure you're creating your assignments with things that you would actually assign to people like bill client, call client, deliver, input prep, missing info. Those types of things are actionable things that we need to go get, we need to do, we need to accomplish. When you're building up your assignments, you need to keep that in mind. The more you put status into this section, the more that it's going to bog down your activity list. If you've been a part of any of the webinars, I think we have a webinar specifically about the activity list coming up. You'll know that that activity list is gold. You have to keep it clean. You have to make sure that only things that are actionable sit on that list. So the more you create status inside of this assignment section, the more it's going to bog you down in the long run. So, again, think of your assignments as action words.
So, we have our 1040 selected here. Over here on the left-hand side, we have all of our available assignments. These are our global list of assignments here. It's not specifically associated with the 1040 yet. What we do to accomplish building our workflow for a 1040 is with ego into our available options and we add them over to the right in the order that we want for the 1040. For example, I'm going to choose input prep. I'm going to add it. That's step number one. I'm going to choose missing info and add it over. That way, in case we're missing anything after it's been prepped, we know that we can assign it to missing info and have someone follow up with the client to get that actual missing information. Then, I'm going to have a review after the missing information. Then we'll do a scan and assemble. Maybe then we'll do awaiting authorization for something like an 8879 in the context of this tax return. Then, we'll go ahead and e-file it, deliver it, and let's just say we'll bill it.
Now, obviously, you may have a different workflow, and that's perfectly fine, but understand that we just put these assignments in as logical order as we possibly could. Input prep, missing info, review, scan, assemble, waiting authorization, e-file, deliver, bill client is our hypothetical process at this point. So when you're adding in your assignments over to your chosen assignment descriptions, make sure that you put them in as logical order as possible. You can utilize your arrows here to move things up and down. Make sure, again, it goes in a logical order. Now, just as a tip here, if you have something that you think may happen more than once, for example, if you do get some missing information and you're missing something and it needs to go back to prep, you do not need to add another prep step after missing information. Very important. You don't need to duplicate steps in this list. You can reuse steps in the life of a project. So if you need to assign it back to input prep, you can do that. You don't need another input prep step to use it after missing information. So make sure that you only use one of each step and it goes in as logical order as possible, and that should get you to the point.
So, when it comes to project versus assignments, your projects are going to be your top-level types of jobs, like tax returns, like bookkeeping, so on and so forth. Your assignments are going to be the individualized steps that exist under those projects.
Now, when we talk about assignment descriptions and we talk about this group of assignments that we just built for this project, which actually are called the assignment group, there are basically two different ways assignment groups can work in the lifespan of a project. This is something that you want to make sure that you understand. There's something called concurrent assignment groups, and there's something called sequential assignment groups. Those are very important because it affects how your workflow is going to move through each of those steps. Sequential is going to be the default, and it's going to be the recommended assignment options for you to use. Sequential means that your assignments tend to go from step one to step two, from step two to step three, from step three to step four, and one assignment being completed triggers the creation of the next assignment.
In most cases, you don't have multiple assignments going on at the same time. There are certain exceptions, which is why we have the concurrent option, but sequential should be assigned to a majority of your projects to ensure that you have proper reportability, to ensure that you have proper accountability, and that everybody in your office knows where that project is and who's working on it. That's what sequential offers you, a one-at-a-time, step-by-step, waterfall, pass the torch. If you guys have been around Office Tools for any length of time, you know we use those terminologies very frequently. One person triggers the assignment of the next.
Concurrent means that you're assigning out all of your assignments at the same exact time. Where this would come into play very frequently is something like an audit, where you are working on cash, you're working on reconciling credit, you're working on all these different types of things, fieldwork, planning, and they're all separate from each other. So you don't have the waterfall, pass-the-torch functionality here, because step one can be done at the same time that step two, three, and four are done, and they're separate from each other. So those are the two different methods. Concurrent meaning all the assignments at once. Sequential meaning that an assignment triggers the next assignment. Again, just to reiterate, sequential is the recommended choice.
Now, how you set a project to be concurrent versus being sequential, what you're going to do is you're going to head to your Setup menu. You're going to go down to Projects, and you're going to go to Project Definitions. This is your list of projects here. Now, when we go to 1040, for example, we're going to click Edit, and we're going to jump over here to the option that says Assignment Options. Where it says Workflow Type, we're going to want to choose sequential here. Now, you can see that you also have concurrent. If you wanted to get really tricky, you could also choose advanced and make your own workflow type. Obviously, until you get a little bit farther along your path of projects, you don't want to choose advance and try to build your own. Choose either sequential or concurrent. Sequential being, again, the recommended option here. That's going to be how your workflow types are set up.
You guys have what is a project? Multiple step, multiple staff member job. Project versus assignments, project is your top-level type of job. Assignments are the steps that it takes to complete them. Concurrent versus sequential talks about how your assignment are actually going to work within the project. Do you want it to move through a process, or do you want to have all of your assignments assigned in the beginning and you manually divvy those out as needed? That's a foundational piece for project setup. As long as you've gone through each of those things, you should have a solid list of projects at that point.
So let's talk a little bit about just a quick adjustment here, project during work codes. A lot of people have this question. Inside of Setup, if you guys go down to Billing, you'll notice that you have a work codes option inside of here. A lot of people will look at your work codes and think that your projects are kind of similar. They look the same. So what's the difference? Why do I use a work code versus a project? In broad terms, because it isn't really so much beginning but it's a good foundational piece to have, your projects and assignments help you with your workflow and due date tracking system. You can use that separate from the other systems in Office Tools, meaning that you don't need to be doing time tracking and billing out of Office Tools in order to do due date and workflow tracking. Same can be said for the time and billing part. You can do time and billing in Office Tools without using projects. So your work codes are actually your foundational piece for time tracking. When you're tracking time, you have to have a work code in your time entry. You do not have to have a project, and you definitely do not have to have an assignment.
Now, if you're planning on using both, where this will typically cross is your work codes will tend to match your project list, at least very closely. You will probably have more work codes available than you do projects, but they will represent each other. Your work code list really shouldn't match your assignment list. They should more match your project list. When it comes down to it, work codes are for time and billing, and projects are for your due date and workflow management system. So keep that in mind when you're talking about what is a project versus a work code. That's the thing to keep in mind.
Which leads us to the basics here. I'm going to show you guys a quick example on how to actually use a project. So under the projects tab, when you're on a contact, you're going to be viewing any project that that client has associated to them. In this case, I'm going to go ahead and create a brand-new project by hitting the plus sign in the toolbar. I'm going to go down and I'm going to choose that 1040 project that we just built. We're going to leave it with the '17 tax year. Due date's pre-filled in. Project manager is the person in charge of the job itself, not necessarily the person working on it. My work code, I'm going to go ahead and pop in my 1040 code. At this point, I'm going to go ahead and click okay, and that creates a project for me. Now, if you guys have additional questions on that or you need some help, let us know. That's just the basics. At this moment, I have a project that exists for this client.
Now, the triggering point for a sequential project, which, remember, should be the majority of what you guys are doing, is when the work actually comes in from the client. Maybe they emailed it. Maybe they brought it in, mailed it in, dropped it off. Maybe they came in, actually portaled it. Whatever they did to get it to you, when you receive information from the client, that's what triggers the start of this project. You shouldn't start it before you get information, because then it looks like something has begun and it hasn't. You want to make sure that you assign it the second you get the information. Don't wait a week while you have it in the office before you assign it or else you'll run into a scenario of unaccountability. You don't know it's in because you haven't marked it. Once it comes in the door, the person who received it will go ahead and click on the Assigned Work button. This is going to be where you see that assignment group that was discussed earlier. We're going to choose our first step here, choose our staff member. We have an assigned date for this assignment and a due date for this assignment. This due date is not the project due date. This is specifically assigned to this input prep step, so keep that in mind. This due date should not match the project due date.
So you picked an assign date, you picked a due date, you picked your step, and you picked your staff member. We're going to go ahead and click okay at this point. You'll notice that once we've done that, it pops up down here on the activity list of that staff member. It's admin as a fake staff member we have here. We're viewing admin's list, and we just assigned this to admin. So it says the 2017 1040, I've got to input prep it for this client, and it's due in five days. This specific assignment is due in five days. We can also see this represented in the upper right-hand corner. Input prep, admin, due on 3/27. So anybody that accesses this project can see exactly where it is, who's working on it, and when that step is slated to be done. So you don't have to go find a physical file sitting on someone's desk buried under stacks and stacks of other files. You just simply have to pull that client up, go to the projects, and look at that upper right-hand corner to see where exactly you are.
Now, here's the cool part. When admin, the staff member, is done working on this input prep assignment, they're going to interact with the project from the activity list directly. They don't need to go into the work list. They don't need to do anything on the screen. You just need to simply check the box off once you're done. So if I've completed input prep, I check it off my list as being finished. Unrelated, but I do have the capability, at this point, of tracking some time. So you'll notice all the information is pre-filled—the client, the staff, the work code, the project, the individual step I was working on. All I have to do is fill in some hours. That's one method of time entry. Most importantly, the Create New Assignment window comes back you. Again, remember, we are showing you a sequential example here, so when I completed input prep, missing info automatically popped up, and it assumes that's where it goes next because of the fact that that's the workflow I have built.
So I've chosen my assigned date, my due date, my assignment. If missing info is not applicable, I can drop that down and switch it to review. If it needs to go back to input prep, I can choose input prep. Being sequential doesn't mean that it's enforcing the assignment order. It just means that it's trying to guide you step by step. Completing one assignment triggers the creation of the next assignment, so it's important to realize. Then, we just do the same thing. We choose the staff member, click okay, and it pops down here on the activity list. Last piece to this puzzle, just as a quick overview on this, is once you've actually completed the project as a whole, so we're already done, everything is finished, then you hit this Completed box over here on the right. When you do that, based on your project, it will actually roll this project forward to the 2018 1040, and it's available for you to start this process over again next year when the client brings in their information. So in broad strokes, that is the basic workflow process. You assign work for your initial assignment, complete it off your list, assign it to the next staff all the way through your process, and then hit Completed.
Now, two basic reports to help you along this process as a management tool, just to make sure that you guys are tracking things. If you go up to the Report section up here at the top and you go down to Project Reports, there are two reports that you should absolutely be utilizing when you're managing your projects correctly. It's going to be the current status report and the due date report. Now, all the reports in there are good for one reason or another, so once you guys dive in and get used to it, you're going to be using all of them. Right now, we're going to specifically focus on current status and due date. The current status report, as you can probably guess, is going to show you where you are in the process of each of your projects, and the due date report is basically going to make sure that you're not missing anything, nothing's falling through the cracks, that you can run a report and see everything that falls in that date range. So we're not going to dive in too deep, but I did want to point out those two reports.
So go in, take a look at them, see what they offer, play around with the different options, but understand that those are the foundational reports for management-level reporting on projects. Due dates, workflow, who's working on what, where are you in your jobs can be found in both of those reports, so make sure that you get familiar. Ultimately, guys, that's the basic overview on projects. Get in there, look at what you have as a project. Get your multiple steps, multiple staff member jobs built in there. Build your steps, create your assignment groups. Make sure that you try to stick with sequential as much as you possibly can for those assignment groups. Utilize, if you're going to be tracking time, the work codes in conjunction with your projects, not instead of or in place of. Go through the basic workflow process. Assign things to staff members, see how it all works. Utilize that current status report and that due date report to make sure that you guys are not letting things slip through the cracks. Ultimately, that's what the project system is built for.
So we have about five minutes here. I'm going to take a look at the questions that we have, and we'll go ahead and jump through this and make sure that we get this all situated. So the first question is how to best handle projects if there's only one staff and, obviously, all the work at that point is done by that same staff. In that example, some people don't actually use projects. It's one of those things, if it's a multiple step job and you still want to be able to track through those steps, then you can use it exactly the same way. Assign it to yourself. When you're done with a step, assign it to the next applicable step. I would not try to build out your workflow in a huge manner. Try to keep it simple. Try to keep it straightforward. For a sole proprietor, somebody that doesn't have that many staff members, you don't want to have Office Tools be creating more work for you instead of helping you. If you're going to use projects, which is totally fine, if you're looking to still track multiple steps, go ahead and do that.
If not, then a lot of people will just use the project as a due date tracking. They see that they have it due. When they're done with it, they complete it, but they don't actually use the assignments. Meaning that they can see that they have a 1040 coming up due, but they're not worried about assigning it to a step. In that example, it might be something where you can utilize the projects to drive due dates but not necessarily drive actually assigning everything and going through that process. As a sole proprietor, that's kind of what we would recommend. Utilize a combination of to-dos and projects to get through everything. Make it kind of tailored to you. If you have additional questions or something tailored to your office specifically, just let us know.
Now, in the grand scheme, guys, if you guys have additional questions that are specific to things that are happening in your database, please just email us directly. Again, that email that you guys can get in contact with us at is email@example.com. Just email directly into us if you have specific questions or something that's happening when you're doing it that doesn't seem like it's correct or didn't show when I did it here. Just let us know, and we'll go ahead and address those needs specifically at that point. At that point, guys, once we've kind of gone through all of that, we're kind of wrapped up. If you guys have questions, again, didn't hear, firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know if anything comes up. You can also email me directly, if you'd like, email@example.com. We'll get you guys squared away. Thank you very much for attending today's Free Training Thursday webinar. Please look at the schedule upcoming. Again, abicusnext.com/webinars. Take a look and see if there's a topic that interests you and make sure to sign up for those. If you guys haven't looked into our user's conference yet, that's coming up. Email us for details. We'll get you guys squared away. There's a lot of good information and things that are coming up there. As a company, AbacusNext is doing a lot of good things here.
Let us know if you guys have questions. Keep in contact. Anything comes up, reach out to the training team. We'll be more than happy to either help you guys out directly or get you guys where you need to go. All right, guys, well, if we don't have any questions … I don't see any last-minute questions popping up. Again, tune in next week, and we'll pick up where we left off and get you guys squared away. Thanks again.