The Importance of Project Management for Accounting Transformation

Accounting transformation projects are complex and challenging and require careful planning, execution, and management. The ultimate goal of a transformation project is to implement strategic initiatives focused on structuring the accounting function to align with the company’s operations, strategies, and future business needs. However, such changes may also bring about emotional reactions from key stakeholders who may resist or struggle to adapt to and accept the new structure and framework.

Project management plays a vital role in ensuring the success of the transformation. In this article, we will discuss how Centri utilizes the Kubler-Ross change curve (shown below), a model describing the typical stages of emotional response to change, to understand and address the needs and concerns of stakeholders at each stage. By applying appropriate strategies and techniques at each stage, project managers can assist stakeholders in overcoming negative reactions, embracing changes, and achieving the desired outcomes.

Typically, at the beginning of a large transformation project, stakeholders may feel some level of shock and often dissatisfaction or even outright anger when confronted with the complexity, uncertainty, and risks involved in the project. In many cases, they may also feel anxious about how these changes will impact their roles, responsibilities, and contributions to the organization. Depending on their role, they may feel overwhelmed by the scope, budget, timeline, and expectations of the project. An “all-hands” kickoff call with stakeholders to directly address this emotion, explaining the project vision, goals, and benefits, and setting realistic and measurable objectives is important to highlight the value of this transformation to each individual. Too often, project managers overlook addressing the impact a transformation project has on the individual team members of the accounting and finance functions. Additionally, it is integral to involve stakeholders in the project planning, decision-making, and feedback processes and empower them to share ideas, concerns, and suggestions. Obtaining buy-in from and creating alignment across the project team and stakeholders will help in overcoming any shock and engage them in driving the success of the project.

To keep everyone bought in and engaged, it is important to communicate clearly and frequently with the stakeholders. At a minimum, it is recommended that weekly touchpoints with a steering committee and regular communication with all stakeholders occur.

As the project begins to progress, stakeholders will start to enter denial as they are reluctant to accept the reality and challenges of the project and its long-term impact. They may ignore or downplay the responsibilities associated with the project or resist or reject any changes the transformation may have on their role at the organization. This second stage is when team members are most likely to “bury their heads in the sand.” Creating alignment and obtaining buy-in remains the best way to address stakeholders during this stage. Another best practice is breaking down large components of the project into more manageable tasks and assigning these tasks to specific people. By narrowing the focus to smaller subtasks, stakeholders and project team members feel a sense of completion over the course of the project.

Large transformation projects take time, and inevitably, frustration may begin to set in. Feelings of frustration may come from the senior management team, who may be growing anxious and impatient, or from staff and manager-level stakeholders who have begun to accept that this change is inevitable and there will be an impact on their roles and responsibilities. It is integral at this stage to establish processes to monitor and control the project quality and risks to enable the project team to implement corrective or preventive actions when needed. These processes allow the project team to maximize communication and provide insight when needed. Additionally, a well-established control and monitoring environment will ensure project milestones are met timely, and the project remains within budget while mitigating the risk of scope creep (when a project’s requirements tend to increase over a project lifecycle).

Recurring status touchpoints are the best time to discuss any potential scope creep. A best practice for these touchpoints is to create and present data visualization using a platform such as Tableau. These visualizations make information more understandable and engaging, assisting in the facilitation of conversation on critical topics. It is important to highlight how changes to the project scope, whether due to new requirements, misaligned expectations, or ad hoc requests, will impact the project’s timing, costs, and quality. This communication can be used to re-align and re-prioritize the project scope and agree on any changes or trade-offs necessary to accommodate the scope creep.

As the project progresses, the lengthy duration of the project may cause some stakeholders to feel depressed. At this stage, the best practice is to educate and spark motivation. The objective of motivating stakeholders is to drive them to embrace the opportunity this project presents and reward them for their participation and contribution.

As the transformation is beginning to establish its foundations, it is necessary for stakeholders across the organization to begin to experiment with the solutions being implemented. The goal at this stage is for stakeholders across the organization to begin to develop the necessary capabilities required of the transformed function(s). One best practice is to create workflows highlighting the previous processes contrasted against new processes. This presentation makes it easier for visual learners to easily identify how the execution of tasks has changed. More sophisticated solutions include utilizing a sandbox environment, allowing stakeholders to engage with the solution without the risk of compromising data or interrupting any implementation.

When the project nears the integration stage, stakeholders decide to adapt to their new roles and embrace change by sharing knowledge. Once the transformation project is successfully implemented, it is a best practice to conduct a debrief (or “bring down”) meeting to review and evaluate project outcomes, lessons learned, and celebrate the project success with the project team and the stakeholders. Additionally, creating documentation around the new process, such as desktop guides, process narratives, and workflows, is an effective and easy way to ensure consistency and transparency.

How Centri Can Help

Project management is not only about delivering the project outcomes but also about managing the human side of the project. At Centri, the use of the Kubler-Ross change curve throughout the project builds trust, enables collaboration, and establishes commitment among the stakeholders to ensure the project’s success. Centri’s Accounting Transformation practice is focused on solutions for foundational accounting needs, optimized processes, and advanced digital controllership designed to increase productivity, reduce costs, and improve the quality of reporting. Contact us to learn how we can help your company approach accounting transformation for your organization.

Garrett Buckless

Managing Director | Accounting Transformation Practice | CPA

Garrett is a Managing Director in the Accounting Transformation Practice at Centri Business Consulting. He has more than 13 years of experience in public accounting, consulting, and industry. View Garrett Buckless's Full Bio

Tori Jancovic

Partner | Audit Support & Readiness Practice Leader | CPA

Tori is a Partner at Centri Business Consulting and the leader of the firm’s Audit Support & Readiness Practice. She has more than 11 years of experience in accounting and audit readiness services. View Tori Jancovic's Full Bio

Rikki Williams

Senior Director | CPA

Rikki is a Senior Director at Centri Business Consulting. He has more than 16 years of public and private accounting experience. View Rikki Williams's Full Bio

About Centri Business Consulting, LLC

Centri Business Consulting provides the highest quality advisory consulting services to its clients by being reliable and responsive to their needs. Centri provides companies with the expertise they need to meet their reporting demands. Centri specializes in financial reportinginternal controlstechnical accounting researchvaluationmergers & acquisitions, and tax, CFO and HR advisory services for companies of various sizes and industries. From complex technical accounting transactions to monthly financial reporting, our professionals can offer any organization the specialized expertise and multilayered skillsets to ensure the project is completed timely and accurately.

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