Finance News & Insights

The 2 best tools to help you streamline finance processes


Who couldn’t stand to wring a few inefficiencies out of their finance processes?

The time savings alone could prove to be a real morale booster for your staffers. Not to mention the cot savings.

(And we bet if you asked them, your staffers have some suggestions on just what could use a little improvement.)

The key to a successful streamlining initiative? The right start. And depending on the process you’re looking at, you will want to tap a different tool to get you there.

Take a look at the two best ones, as well as when to use each, for a little spring cleaning in Finance:

For processes that are mostly within a single department: Use a flowchart

Chances are this is the tool you’ve relied on in the past to boost efficiency.

But if you haven’t done it in a while — or you’ve added staff since you last tried it — now’s a great time for another round.

The concept of a flowchart is an easy one: You physically draw out your process from end to end, step by step.

This is your best option if you’re looking at a single process, ideally that primarily stays within a single department, like credit checks, for example.

To make the most of this tool, consider some of these proven strategies for success:

  • Think about having the staffers involved each make his or her own flowchart of how they think the process runs currently. Or at least make the flowchart creation a joint effort. That could offer a ton of insights where there are potential spots for improvement, as way as any confusion.
  • Consider foregoing the flipchart and ditching the white board in favor of another option: sticky notes. By writing each step on a sticky note, it will be a lot easier to try alternate options and make the steps around to zero in on the best one.
  • Color code. There are countless ways you can use color coding to fine-tune your flowcharting. Just a few examples: Different colors can represent different staffers, different colors can signify manual vs. automated steps, etc.

For processes that involve multiple groups: Use a swim lane diagram

As you well know, it’s tough to find a process that resides solely in Finance anymore – so many different departments are intertwined in your processes and practices these days.

And each of them provides yet another opportunity for inefficiencies to creep in and slow the works down!

Enter the swim lane diagram. It’s a next-level flowchart that lets you account for the different departments involved.

To make this type of diagram, you draw horizontal lanes dedicated to each department. So if you want to revisit your A/P three-way match, you’d have three lanes: one for A/P, one for Receiving and one for Purchasing.

Your arrows will still flow from step to step, but they’ll cross lanes as the process moves to different areas within your organization.  From there it should be easily to see where there’s room for improvement.

Note: You can easily do this in Excel, by creating either row or column labels. Then separate your “swim lanes” with cell borders.

No matter which tool you us, remind staffers nothing’s set in stone. If a new flow isn’t working, you’ll need to revisit it.

Have you found another way to successfully streamline your finance processes? Share it here.

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