Getting Lean: The hb&k Story

Getting Lean: The hb&k Story

Earl earned his Green Belt Certification in 2012

By: Earl Blackmon, Lean Six Sigma Greenbelt

If you follow our social media and blogs, you’ve come across the hashtag #ContinuousImprovement many times. I’ve written about Lean by relating it to sporting events such as March Madness  and Braves baseball. Today, I want to share with you more about Lean at hb&k.

For several years, Hartmann, Blackmon & Kilgore, P.C. (hb&k) has been employing the use of Lean Six Sigma to improve processes and efficiency in our firm. Our dedication to continuous improvement has led to successes beyond industry expectation. Coupled with other internal initiatives, Lean has helped hb&k decrease busy season overtime by 40%, increased employee morale, and improved client satisfaction.

Finding Lean

Several years ago, hb&k was experiencing many transitions:

  • Retirement was pending for three of the six shareholders, one being the founding shareholder.
  • Processes catered to personal preference and not to efficiency. We had six shareholders, and to loosely quote an intern at the time, “there were six shareholders and six different ways of doing things.
  • Technology made it increasingly important to switch from using paper files to preparing returns electronically. Some within the firm were ready to make the change while others were not, so again, the “paperless process” was more like “paperless preference”.

We had expectations of growth, but no solid plan to guide us through it and knew we needed outside perspective. Then, at a conference, we met Dustin Hostetler who was a Lean consultant focused on guiding accounting firms to greater success.

Developing “the hb&k way”

For hb&k’s first Lean project, we developed a single system for completing individual tax returns. From six varying processes to one, we developed “the hb&k way” of doing a return and implemented it immediately.

Through some skepticism and initial resistance, we continually insisted each person follow the same process. Once everyone had it down, the results were obvious: we were getting returns done faster with a more streamlined way of sharing information.

To keep the momentum going, we completed two more Lean programs. As a firsthand witness to the huge impact and success Lean brought to hb&k, I developed a passion for Lean. I became certified as a Green Belt consultant and currently lead Lean projects within hb&k and for other firms nationwide.

Continuous Improvement

We revisit our processes every year to ensure efficiency and continual improvements.

With a Lean project, you must strive for “Continuous Improvement” which means you should always look for ways to make your processes better. Every year, we reexamine our processes to make improvements. Because of changes in technology and regulations, no company can become complacent with doing things the way you always have.

Lean has allowed us to greatly improve turn-around time. We send work through a process that focuses on efficiency and eliminating errors, which results in greater client satisfaction. In addition, our employees benefit from having one process to follow – and if they follow it, the work moves forward to the next step instead of backwards, so there is less time spent on each step. As a result, our firm benefits because the clients and employees are happier.

Lean Benefits Any Company

A continual drive for improvement can be applied in any company and industry. In fact, Lean is a “top trend to watch for in 2018” among engineering firms. I have consulted with companies across the country to help streamline processes and reduce errors, which can increase revenue and client satisfaction.

Lean will give you the momentum to move forward.  If you’ve said the phrase “we’ve always done it that way”, you are holding yourself back from your full potential.

We know these initiatives can make a difference in any business. If you would like to get more done, in less time, with better quality, consider Lean and contact me.