Agile for all: how to get an accountant to be flexible

    Transparency, control, a sense of progress, easy and informal transfer of tasks - these are faithful companions of flexible methodologies. We have been working in software companies for many years and are accustomed to the advantages that agile gives. When we started making the Button , most of which is the offline work of accountants, lawyers and  business assistants , the first question we asked was: “Will Agile work in an accounting company?” Now we will answer in the affirmative, but before that we had to attach a lot of effort. We’ll talk about this today.

    Why should companies be flexible?

    A typical accounting company in a vacuum is a dozen women: a director, a secretary, and 10 accountants. Usually they serve 100-200 customers. Accountants often have a specialization: one deals with salaries, two score the primary, and all the others advise clients, keep records and submit reports. All the goals declared in the first paragraph are easily achieved: control and transparency - at the expense of a small team, in which everything is already visible, and the transfer of tasks is not required at all. But there is one problem.

    We met with dozens of accounting companies, and almost all of them cannot overcome the line of 10–20 employees and 100–200 clients. Attracting more customers is not a problem, but then you will need to hire more accountants, and this will be followed by paralysis of service and management. Some people will begin to freebie, lay out solitaire, chase teas, and everyone will forget about reports and taxes together.

    Professional Reformation

    Accountants are very fond of living and working in the conditions of regulation of all processes, when there is an approved policy for each particular case. For this reason, the price list of an average company looks like this:

    Formal relationships with clients help protect yourself from unnecessary work, but lead to funny situations. An accountant can violently extort a businessman or his employee (under penalty of non-payment of salaries, for example) somean insignificant piece of paper, the absence of which will lead to an additional tax charge of only two hundred rubles. Often this is done at the last moment, the accountant spends a couple of sleepless nights, reconciles the balance to cents, heroically sends reports in the last minutes of the day, and then wonders why no one appreciated his work.

    The world is not perfect, and making balance perfect is impossible at all. It is important to remember what is really important, and to follow the Pareto rule: only an accountant is concerned about the extra charge of a couple of hundred rubles, you should not take out the brain all around becauseminimum probability of minimum loss. Flexibility in relations with clients and a “creative approach” to solving accounting problems saves the accountant’s time and entrepreneur’s nerves. Unfortunately, the regulation orders to act in the interests of accounting, and not in the interests of business, and in order to break out of this vicious circle it is necessary to rethink the approach to business at a conceptual level.

    Is it possible to deal with this without adjayl?

    Sure you may. After all, developers also work without adjayl, with the vast majority. After all, are you familiar with this enchanting world of technical specifications, regulations, acceptance tests and network schedules with the least critical path? Accountants are not developers, the work of a company is more like a chain restaurant, for example, the long-suffering McDonald's. You can rape accountants in this style, implement KPI, regulations and tight control over human robots . We didn’t do this because we love Starbucks more :)

    Why this approach does not work:
    1. No one has yet made a more or less massive service history from a company with a large number of employees and customers. It is completely incomprehensible on what KPIs and regulations can be based (except for the sick imagination of the director, who tied up the profession of an accountant about 5 years ago :)
    2. To monitor the implementation of regulations, you need either special people (about one for ten employees), or very serious automation. Automation is long, expensive, and the worst thing is that these investments may simply not pay off.
    3. Accountants have been studying all their lives, they are quite developed personalities with a deep inner world, and do not want to be silent KPI achievement robots .

    That is why the average accounting company cannot turn from a local business into a federal or even international one. We have long passed the mark of 200 customers and are ready to accept 1000, and all thanks to the secret knowledge that we brought from the marginal sphere of web development :)

    How to inspire an accountant from a province to live by agayl

    In the Button, scrum rallies are not only for developers and designers. Accountants, lawyers, business assistants, and even business personnel conduct ten-minute stand-ups in the morning and in the evening, plan two-week iterations, use stickers, whiteboards and all the associated attributes of stylish, fashionable, youth practices. But all this makes no practical sense if people do not have a clear understanding of what advantages this approach gives them. This statement, by the way, is true for IT.

    Button Scrum. Thousands of them

    One desire is not enough, you need to show people a bright path and develop a useful habit. At first it was not easy: they treated ajail as a formal process and the folly of "these strange IT people." An accountant “out of the box” is not ready to observe strange rituals, to come to a general scrum meeting on time and be silent for ten minutes and carefully listen to colleagues. The first 8 months, each scrum began with expressive moralizing from the lips of the scrum master , who few people were indifferent to. From the outside, it is more like tyranny and ordinary fascism, but, unfortunately, the gingerbread method does not work at all: discipline is required. While you are doing your job, you are your own boss, but the head of scrum is a scrum master. You have to be silent and come on time if you do not want to feel like a naughty kitten.

    Scrum rally  is just an example, a similar approach should be used with all practices, otherwise your presentations, planning and reflection will turn into an unconstructive bazaar that can last for hours. An important worldview remark: a scrum master  is not the top of the hierarchy; in his free time from scrum, he cannot give you instructions. Scrum master  is the owner of the process, the mouthpiece of the methodology. That is, at the rally you submit not to the person, but to the process, which otherwise simplywill be destroyed. Also, for example, at the time of the attack, the football goalkeeper coordinates the game of the defenders, although, formally, he is not their leader, does not conduct training, does not monitor their regime and does not affect their fate outside the football field. Goalkeeper's task is to control the whole picture at a dangerous moment, the defenders' task is to control their area.

    Another problem: to create a real sense of equality and partnership. The most striking example is the chief accountants. Over the years, a representative of this species gets used to his status as a gray cardinal, gets used to the idea that he is the second (or even the first) head of the company. Hence the neglect of junior accountants, developers, and other "lower classes." In adjayl, such a distribution of roles is unacceptable: authoritarianism prevents people from making meaningful decisions and boldly go beyond their formal role. Once someone once “turns on the leader” and no one will believe that you can live differently. Therefore, we suppressed such manifestations very toughly so as not to jeopardize the entire implementation of ajail.

    The morning scrum of primary accountants

    There is only one conclusion: the main thing in flexible methodologies is rigidity. Processes should be flexible, not the rules of the game. Now our main way of introducing an adjayl is this: “you simply have no way out, even if you are an accountant” :)

    Not everyone is ready to work in such a rhythm, with some people just had to leave. Now we warn at the entrance how everything will be arranged, and we do not take accountants who seem not flexible enough. Dismissing the wrong people and hiring the right ones, we have accumulated a critical mass saturated with the Ajail culture. We no longer have to spend a lot of time forcing happiness and the fight against conservatism - inspiration comes to a beginner already in the process of team work, we only push a little.

    Positive motivation, of course, is more important than negative stimulation, so every beginner goes through a two-day onboarding. We talk a lot about the 4 pivots that we had to make in the first year of the project’s life, and how SCRUM and Lean helped make the right decisions at these critical moments.

    For example, at one not-so-wonderful moment, we noticed that we are not following fanatical ideology of adjayl enough. We did not have truly cross-functional accountants: accountants in teams advised clients, and accounting was conducted by completely different people, gathered in a separate “accounting team”. From here grew the legs of most of the problems familiar to everyone who had at least once worked in a functionally organized company with a bunch of departments and services: ping-pong tasks, erosion of responsibility, lack of personal initiative.

    We canceled the accounts and distributed all payroll accountants and leading accountants to service teams - as close as possible to the source of the tasks. In addition to accountants, each team has a lawyer and a  business assistant. Collaboration helps them understand the client’s business and solve their problems instead of achieving their own goals, divorced from reality.

    Button cluster "Cosmos", the team "Union" and "World"

    Scrum applicability limits

    One of the main problems is the nature of the accountant. This is an endless process, if you draw parallels with development, it is more like using software, rather than creating. Here iterations are not always good. We are helped by a newfangled trend known as holacracy. This approach to management and distribution of responsibility allows you to get rid of the hierarchy in the company. Each employee (holacracy proposes to use the word “partner” instead of the word “employee”) falls into conditions that are called “work for oneself” in the post-Soviet space, constantly changing and improving something in that part of the business for which he is responsible. But this is a big topic for a separate article, which we will definitely write when we fully enjoy the delights of holacracy.

    From the heap of the text, six captain rules can be distinguished that will help implement aggirl in any team (they will help, but will not do all the work, do not treat them like a silver pool):
    1. The whole company must live on aggayl. There can be no exceptions even in those departments where flexible methodologies do not give obvious benefits. It is important to create the right culture.
    2. Everyone should understand why agile is needed. If you cannot articulate the need for adjayl, you may not need adjayl. If a person cannot understand the importance of adjayl, perhaps you do not need a person.
    3. Observance of rituals such as stand-ups, reflections and presentations may, but should not, seem like an empty formality. These simple things help people not to lock themselves in their professional vacuum, to understand the goals and values ​​of the business. Rituals should be a duty, preferably enjoyable.
    4. You will need a person who will instill an agile and violently monitor the conformity of the applied practices. His fanaticism should border on fascism.
    5. Replace such a person with the rules in the case of Adjail will not work. You can’t work “by Agile”, you can only “be Agile” :)
    6. Planning should be given a lot of attention (but not time). At the same time, the iteration plan should be carried out at 100% (we have so far reached the 90% mark, but we are confidently moving forward). For those who have not completed it, you should first troll well, and then help establish the planning process.

    One of Button's values  is to love learning and changing. We love to introduce new ideas and practices and are constantly looking for inspiration. We will be glad to find it in the comments. Please share your experience, it will come in handy (and not only to us).

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