Watch this webinar recording that discusses not only best practices but the best ways to use Projects in OfficeTools!

Watch this webinar recording (or read the transcript below) that discusses not only best practices but the best ways to handle Projects in OfficeTools, and get the most out of your software.

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Video Transcription

Well, hello everybody and thank you so much for joining me today on this Free Training Friday. Got an exciting topic, tips and tricks for using projects. My name is Phillip Phares. I’m the Director of Education here at Abacus Next, and an Office tools expert or at least I like to think so. Again, I want to thank everybody for joining me.

Just to be clear, this is not necessarily a projects training. Again, this is more about the little things that we might miss day to day that can be very helpful when working with projects. So maybe a little bit more advanced, so if you’re new to projects this may be a little outside your wheelhouse just yet, but it’s still good to know. If you’re a beginning user, again, I’m gonna put some things in there for you also. So we got a lot of stuff to cover.

In about 20 minutes or so, we’re gonna talk about projects. I want to leave about 10 minutes or so at the end for some Q & A. So if you have questions, you can type those in to the Questions area of the go to webinar panel at any time, and I’ll do my best to answer those at the end of the webinar.

Couple things worth talking about today. Again, having to deal with Projects, but we’re gonna keep it down to the tips and tricks and kind of the little things, but before we get going I’m gonna ask a very self-serving polling question to everybody if you don’t mind. That’s really about what areas of Office tools would you like to see more webinars of in the future? We’re always adapting these. We’re always changing these things to make sure that we’re fulfilling needs as far as contents.

So if everybody just take a moment if you don’t mind, just check one of the boxes as far as what kind of categories of Office tools related webinar would you like to see more of in the future. That way, obviously we can trend and kind of format the curriculum to match what everybody’s looking for. I’ll let this run just a moment to give everybody an opportunity to cue in here.

Well, it looks like time and billing up. Well, it’s kind of split pretty evenly across everything. Apparently no one really cares about CRM and scheduling though. Lot of other great stuffs well just go over in just a moment.Okay, perfect. I’m going to go ahead and pull that poll. Thank you everybody for helping with that. Really, really appreciate it.

o couple things want to talk about today in relations to projects and kind of tips and tricks-ish stuff are going to be assignments and checklists, so we’re going to talk about that. We’re talking about some budgets. All right, pre-assigning work, pre-assigning staff. That’s an important thing, it doesn’t come up all of the time but when needed it can be very, very helpful. And also about project events, you know, this comes up pretty often. There’s a lot of things that can connect to a project. Like a phone call, for example. I want to make sure that everybody understands how they can track those things.

And then a very common question is, what’s the difference between a project and a to do. We’re going to talk about that. And then finally, how do we handle all those projects on our list. All those red lines and the potentially hundreds of items that are going to show up in the middle of March or beginning of April, whatever it may be. How do we deal with those things?

So we’re going to talk about all these subjects here as we go through. And again, at any point if you have a question, type it in. Again, I’ll do my best to kind of look at the questions’ area as we go and see if I could insert the answer in the presentation here. But I will leave some time at the end to go over all the questions. So if you got something, please ask. I’ll be more than happy to cover it.

Let’s get started here. So the first thing I want to talk a little bit about is assignments versus checklists, or kind of what the difference is between those two things are. So if you’ve used projects at all, I’m sure you understand the idea that each project is going to have its own defined workflow, right? The steps of that project that you track and you assign to people as their work comes in, they complete their part of it and they assign it to the next person and so on and so on. In addition to that, projects also have checklists and you can see a checklist for project over in the right corner. Now the top right corner of the project screen. Now this checklist for a project can be built ahead of time so each project, each project definition will actually have its own checklist.

Now what I’ve seen happen in the past, with Office, especially if they first start to roll OfficeTools out, is they fall back on kind of their own methodologies. They reference their routing sheets and their dockets and their travelers and all those things and they kind of build what they think is going to be their workflow, but they build it in the checklists. In some other examples, some offices will take what they’ve had in the past that are checklist type items and they’ll actually build that into their workflow as an assignment. And that can cause some problems and the reason that can be a problem is because when you’re assigning work to somebody, you’re effectively telling them, hey, here’s work for you to do and here are the details of that work.

A checklist is more of an acknowledgement that something has occurred and you want to separate those two things as best you can. There are some gray areas. I would use missing info as a gray area. It’s one of those things that you want to acknowledge when you receive some missing documentation. So it’s kind of an acknowledgement right? But it’s also an actionable item. We can bug the client to bring the stuff in. So there are some gray areas but you really want to think about how, in what items you’re putting int he project workflow as an assignment and what type of items land on checklists.

If I open up the checklist here for this project that you see here on the screen, I really only have one item, which is received information. While that may be a little odd of checklist item, I’m trying to magnify the type of thing that’s going to go in here. Something that is not necessarily actionable but more of a logging of information is where you’re going to want to have checklist items. The fact that you have sent something or received something. Usually outside forces like the client, have influenced the need to track something. They’ve delivered something to you and you acknowledging that fact.

What you don’t want to do is have something on your activity list. You don’t want to have an assignment or give an assignment to somebody that they can’t do. Telling somebody, hey I need you to receive the 8879 is a little odd. That’s not really up to the staff member necessarily. Sure they can call the client and there’s an argument there. But just keep in mind that there are two different things going on here. The assignments within the workflow are actionable tasks as where checklists are more reactionary logs. So pick your battles on those. At the end of the day, whatever works for you is what’s good. But those are the two kind of ways they interact.

Another thing to keep in mind about checklist is that you really can’t do a lot with them. You can’t track time from a checklist item. The reporting per checklist are minimal. There are reports, project reports that do show checklists but they are sparse. And really, all you get is the acknowledgement that something was checked on a certain date by a certain staff member. If you really want to unlock the power of checklists however, there is one thing you can do. There is an option located, now this might seem like an odd area but just follow me here, under the setup menu, my company, information and settings. I’ll give everyone a moment to jot this down if you’re interested in using checklists. And what this setting is going to do, and is located under the contacts tab dow and here on this screen.

What this setting will do is actually lock down your checklist, or I should say, the completion of your work based on the completion of the checklists. Therefore, if you put five things in your project checklist, such as received assigned engagement letter, received the e-file documents that we received payments, perhaps even if we want to get creative. But if we put things on our checklist that we are requiring to be done or at least acknowledge prior to the completion of our project. This will protect us from that. If I attempt to complete my work without having checked off my checklist items, it’ll actually give me a prompt that will say, sorry, you didn’t do these things or you haven’t acknowledged these checklist items, therefore you can’t complete your project. That really makes the checklist far, far more powerful. But you can’t assign checklist items. You can’t put due dates on them or anything like. So use them sparingly and that’s kind of the difference between assignments and checklists.

So going a little further, the next thing I want to talk about is our assignment budgets in kind of the same vane project budgets. So if you’re using project budgets or you’re planing on it, here’s something to keep in mind. There are really two places where you can manage these details. One of them is on the main project itself. So for my example of my 2016, I know it’s kind of old. My tax return project that I have here on the screen. If you follow the mouse down, you can actually see in the bottom left corner, I have some budgeted hours. All right, I’ve budgeted about 12 hours and I’ve tracked about three. So I’m about a quarter of the way through my project. So this is the project budget, this 12 hours right here, and that’s one way to do it and it’s very straight forward. It’s very simple to track and it kind of gives you a ballpark number.

You can also actually work up the work list budget at the top of the screen here and create or view budget items specific to each assignment. So you could in theory come in here and actually put a budget on each step or as you’re assigning these assignments, put a budget in there. But here’s something I want you to keep in mind. You can’t have both.

Well, you can have both, but you can’t have them be different numbers and here’s what I mean. The project budget, if all I did was come into the project and edit this number and make this 10 hours, that’s fine. But if I then also go into the work list budget and create a one hour review budget, my budget is actually going to update and show one hour. And the reason for that is because the total of the assignment budgets will actually override the total project budget. Which makes sense right? If you have five assignments and they’re two hours each, that’s ten hours worth of work, your project has ten hours worth of budget.

So the thing to keep in mind, the easiest way to think about this is, your budget’s going to come from your assignments first, and if there is no budget for those assignments, then you can simply put in a project budget here. But you can’t do both. You can’t have 10 hours of project budget but only assign five hours of assignment specific budgets. So if you notice this number keeps changing or it’s just not what you’re expecting, or if you’re wondering how did that number even get there, it’s because you have budget items associated to specific assignments. You can view those in the work list and you can see those when you actually assign work. You can see those right down here, estimated hours for research, or whatever the assignment may be.

So I wanted to bring that up because I do have offices that struggle with that a little bit where they want to have a total project budget of a certain number but the only real work they care about, as far as budget goes is these one or two steps. Well again, we can’t do both. So pick your battles on that one. If you’re not using project budgets then I would just start right here. Just put in what you feel it’s going to be. Typically, after that first one, you’re going to want to reference the previous. So maybe the first time you setup a project budget, it’s a guestimation. Well next year, or next period, whenever the project rolls over, it can carry that budget with it and you’ll see the last period amount. So you’ll know what the previous year was and what you may want to adjust it to this year. Some very cool things there so you can fiddle around with that but keep in mind, you either have a project total or your assignment budgets. And you have to pick one of those two.

Okay, in that same, again in that same area, let’s talk a little bit about pre-assigning. This comes up quite a bit. If we look at this project, in the top right corner, we can see that it’s currently actually assigned to prep, input in prep, and you have to assign to the staff member Joe Demo. I know it may be small in everybody’s screens but this particular project it’s already been assigned. The first step is already out. If we go to Joe Demo’s activity list down here in the bottom, we can obviously see the reminder that reflects that assignment and the work is being done. But the situation will come up that when Joe completes input in prep, and I’ll go ahead and do that here. When Joe checks off input and prep, the systems going to then ask him to track his time and then to assign it to the next person, right?

Well, what if Joe doesn’t know who that next person is? Or what if it’s not Joe’s decision? Or what if we just want to make sure that the next step goes to a certain person, maybe it’s because of the client. Then we would relieve Joe of having to make that decision. Well, what you can actually do, and I’ll cancel this so that assignment comes back, is you can go into the work list ahead of time and you can create an assignment without an assigned date. And what that’s basically telling office tools is look, when it gets to review, I would like this person to do it. I don’t know when that’s going to be because Joe still has to do the prep, but when it gets there and when Joe’s done with his part and we’re moving to the next step, here’s what I’ve decided I want to do with the next step.

You can’t do this globally. This is on a per project level but I could for example, come into this tax return, I can open up the work list here. This is more of a little trick, but I can come into the work list budget, open this guy up. I think I already have it open. There we go. And we can see the current assignments. So we could see that Joe Demo has input and prep. I can actually come up here to the plus button, hit plus and instead of adding assignment, because an assignment would actually be giving somebody work right now. I don’t want to do that. I’m actually going to add a budget and I know we think budgets in our head, as far as numbers and hours and dollars and things of that sort, but what we’re actually going to do is budget the next step and the next person who’s going to do it. Maybe we actually put an hour amount on that.

But all we have to do here is actually say, when this assignment comes up, we’ll say review, that we’ve predetermined that Sally’s going to do the review. Say okay and we’re done. It’s int he system, it’s logged but you’ll notice there’s no assigned date for Sally’s review job. The reason being because Joe’s not done with his, therefore we don’t know when it’s actually going to get assigned. But here’s the cool part, here’s what happens. When Joe does complete his job, his input and prep step, he checks it off of his list. Timecard pops up and although I skipped a step down at review, once it does get to review, it will auto populate Sally’s name.

So it’s a very cool way of pre loading potential and staff and stats for those assignments. So it’s a very, very helpful thing to do. And you can do that again if you actually want to put hours on that step, you can go ahead and do that. But it’s again, a very convenient way of saying for this project, when it gets here, we don’t know when that’s going to be, but when it gets to this assignment, here’s what we want to do with it. I do see some questions coming through and I’ll again I’ll get to the questions. I don’t want you to think I’m ignoring those.

Okay, so we talked a little bit about projects and a little bit about checklist and workflow and assignments and that kind of stuff. But what about the out of scope work. We’d be silly to think that the project is the end all be all of everything that we touch with this client. A lot of things happen outside of that and to be piggy back on top of the budgets, if we’re expecting 10 hours of work for this project yet we spend two or three hours on the phone with the client every week, that might be an important part of our budgeting, or at least an important part of our billing decisions. Or maybe it would just be good to know. And the way office tools is set up that everything is connected to the client, this gives us a really unique opportunity to start connecting these dots.

So on the project screen, over on the right side, although I feel it’s pretty obvious, a lot of people do miss it. There’s a little link that says project events and in my example here you can see that’s’ actually a green color. So just like the checklist, it actually lights up when there’s data there. If my checklist was gray or if the project events words were gray, what’s that telling me is that there’s nothing else. There’s no phone calls, there’s no appointments, there’s no to dos. There’s nothing else connected outside back into this project.

However, in this example it’s lit up green. So if I click on it I can actually see what else has been connected to this project. Okay, it looks like we made some phone calls and there’s a couple of other things we did for the client in the context of this work. So it’s out of scope, it’s those little things that kind of just pop up that we can’t really account for. It’s not part of our traditional work flow but nonetheless we want to track it and not lose sight of these items. If we track time for them, then that will actually also affect our project budget. This easiest way to make this happen is that when you are doing things that are related to a project in other places within Office tools, just chose the project from the project drop down and you’ll see it.

So if I jump over to the calls tab, we can see that there’s actually a drop down menu here for project. So if a client called, I could go ahead and create a brand new phone call, put in the details of what I want to track and I could just hit the drop down for the project. Choose the appropriate project that I want associate this call to and now all the time that I track in the details that I put in here are available from that project screen. And that’s very helpful in conjunction with budgets also because now you can start to see what’s really going on as far as the work goes when you’re tracking these things. So project events are very, very handy. Again it is requiring extra work. All you got to do is associate things to the projects as appropriate.

Okay, to do versus projects. This is a longer discussion but I’m going to give you the simplest way of thinking about is something a to do or is something a project. And there is a gray area but we’ll leave that out. We’ll leave that to you and your office head trainers as you discuss your needs, but here’s the easiest way to think about it. If it’s one person doing one job, one time, it’s a to do. Simplest way to think about it. If it’s multiple people doing multiple steps over a period of time, it’s a project. And that’s going to nail 99% of all the scenarios that come up.

If Joe is working on something and he then needs to pass it over to Bob, that’s a project. But if Joe’s the only person who touches it and Joe only does it every now and then and when he’s done, he’s done, then that’s a to do. So those are the two main difference between to dos and projects. That doesn’t however mean you can’t have single step projects and it doesn’t mean you can’t have to dos that recur on a regular basis. But again, those are the exceptions, not the rule. One person, one job, one time, that’s a to do. Multiple people, multiple steps over a period of time, that’s a project.

The last thing I’m going to bring up as far as the tips and tricks for projects is really about the activity list and projects ara big part of his particular thing. And that’s what appears on our list on the bottom, on the activity list on the bottom. I imagine that anybody who’s listening right now who’s a long time Office tools user, or even if you’re relatively recent or you’ve gone through a tax season, I guess is a better way of saying it. You’re list might look a little bit more like, a little bit like this. All right. Where it’s just line after line after line of project’s most of which you can’t do anything about right now. You have to wait another month or two, if not loner.

So how do we make projects not just kind of dump all the information on our list and make an entire mess. The easiest way for me to describe what you can do here as a little trick is to create a fictitious staff member. Okay. So what you’re going to do is you’re actually going to create a new staff member in office tools. It doesn’t affect your licensing because they’re not a real person, they’re never going to use office tools. But you’re going to create a staff person and give them a name. I’ve seen creative names like Smokey the Bear or whoever. Then you assigning the projects that don’t have a home to that login. And I’ve actually done that here.

If I come down to the bottom left corner under staff, I can come down here to assigned prep. I know that’s not a very creative name but I’m sure you get the idea. And inside this list are all of the projects and all the assignments that don’t have a home yet. The client hasn’t come into the office yet or dropped off their work. There’s a bunch of stuff sitting in the prep bucket or the review folder and I’m waiting for somebody to grab them. And what this does is relieve everybody’s activity list from all of this stuff until such time as they come into this assigned prep list, which will everybody will have access to. They see something they want to grab off the shelf. They can click on it and they can assign it to themselves.

So what you’re doing is you’re creating a bucket for all of your project reminders, your assignments to go into it if you don’t know who they’re supposed to go to yet. And it gives you a second activity list, so to speak, that you can put things into and actively go and retrieve an assign as needed. So that’s’ one way of getting three hundred tax return projects off of your list but still not losing sight of them and being able to track them. Okay, perfect.

So I know some questions are going through here. Looks like we got about eight minutes for questions. Hopefully that’s enough time. If you have more questions or I went to fast through something and you want to see it again, now’s a great time to type that in there. There’s a questions field, a questions box located in the go to webinar panel. Give me just a second, I’m going to go ahead and read some of these real quick and just have a look here.


Can you have a checklist at the assignment level? That they can’t complete assignments without completing it?

You absolutely can. It’s a little trickier because it requires a little bit more setup, but basically what this person is saying, if you didn’t get that from the question, there is, can I have an assignment like review or prep or e-file, whatever it may be, with a specific checklist just of that step and they can’t complete their step until they complete their checklist. Yes, you can.

To set that up, what you want to do is go to the setup menu at the top. You want to go into projects and you want to go down the project assignment groups. This is wear you build your workflow for your projects, right? If anybody has done the setup component in office tools, this will be very familiar area. At the top you choose your project, so in this example, it’ll be my 1040. And over on the right, I have my workflow. These are the steps that I track when I do this particular project. You’ll notice, just to the right of this list, there’s a checklist. So if I had very specific things that I wanted to track for review as an example. I could select review on the right here, open up the checklist and begin choosing what items I would like on that checklist. Therefore when that was assigned to somebody, if they didn’t’ check it off, they can’t complete their step. But be careful with that because that can be a little heave handed, so choose your battles, but you can absolutely do that.

Can you have next year’s project have the same people as this year?

There are options to have projects use the previous years staff, however that requires you to use a different version of project. But default most projects are going to fall into what we call sequential. Meaning step one then step two then step three. However, you can go into the setup and I recommend you talk to a trainer about this for more detail.

But you can choose a concurrent style workflow for a project and in doing that what you’re able to accomplish is predetermining every step of the project. And if you do that, then every subsequent year or period, will retain those values. So in theory, yes, you could have next years project. Have the same people as the previous year. The problem with that is when work gets assigned and when things are due. Just because Joe completed the review on Tuesday of this year, does not mean that that’s going to make sense next year. But there is some options, talk to a trainer and they can clarify that for you.

About the bucket- is it just one user for the whole office, basically?

Well, yes of course. You can do just one. I just was working with an office the other day and they had like five of them. They had a tax bucket, I think they had a monthly write up or book keeping bucket. They had a bucket for various things and again, it doesn’t affect your licensing so have at it. Put as many on that list as you want. Just make sure that it’s clear to everybody what the goal and what the purpose of the bucket is. It’s not to not see things. It’s to give you clarity on your own list so that way you can take care of the day to days, right.

The things that are popping up kind of here and there and the more immediate stuff. The bulk reminders that you’re going to receive because a certain date came around or because there is not a defined staff member involved. That stuff goes to the bucket. But you have to make sure that you don’t forget the buckets there and that people are actually managing it and looking at it and reassigning things from it, right? So it’s not a freebie, the work has to go into it, you have to manage the bucket but it does give you a really good way of kind of keeping the bulk of the work in one place and the day to day stuff on everybody’s list as appropriate.

When initially assigning work, do we have to click on the assign work button?

Not necessarily. There are some options. Some things that you could do with projects that are basically saying, when I create a project for a client, I would like this step to be assigned. And then you choose who gets it. The problem with that is that’s the assumption that you’re creating the project the moment there’s work to be done. So in most cases, we know we have a client and we know we proved a service to that client and we can anticipate what we’re going to do for them when the appropriate time comes, right?

If you have an individual client and you do their taxes every year, we can make an assumption that we’re going to do their taxes nest year. So it’s better to have the project there before they ever walk in the door or drop their stuff off so we can make decisions on that, than the walk in scenario, where we didn’t know anything, work existed until a moment ago and now we’re reacting to it and creating project real quick. So there are some scenarios where you can have the project automatically assign things for you but that’s being dictated by other events and I don’t know if they’re always more valuable then just clicking on the button. But then again, that’s something that we could speak to a trainer about as far as your needs and figure out some pretty creative ways of going to that.

Where’s the best place to leave a note that everybody working on it will see it?

There’s a couple places in the context of projects though, what I would recommend is that when work is being assigned that you use the note field on the assignment screen. Let me show you what that looks like. In the background, obviously you can see my project and I’m going to go ahead and assign work. So I can click on the assign work button. I guess I already have a job but that’s okay, I’ll assign another step. And I get this screen. And this is where I’m choosing just that. The workflow and the person who’s going to do it. Right down here, there’s a notes field and I can begin typing things in.

And what this note will do is if this is the most current assignment, it’ll actually show up as the current note, right here on the main screen for a project. There’s another assignment here but it give you the ability to have, as we can see here, the note, whatever it may be, right here on the main project screen. In addition to that, and this is a little bit more of a trained process. There is a dedicated notes field for projects that will light up red if there is not detail there. So you could put a note in the notes area and just tell everybody, hey, if the word notes is red, then there’s something there that you need to look at. In between those two things, I think you got it all covered. This button here for notes would be something that’s always there and it’s always visible and anybody can access it. As where the current note is really the note that was given to the most current assignments.

All right. Very, very good questions. If you asked a question and I didn’t get to it, I do apologize. I will follow up with everybody right at the end of the webinar here. And that’s really about it. I want to thank everybody so much for coming. Really, really appreciate everybody’s time.

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