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Marin Finance uses rapid Agile testing to speed journal entry approval

How a cross-departmental team found ways to cut approval time for select journals from 23 days to 2 -- even after multiple potential solutions failed.


WHY CHANGE WAS NEEDED


Every time money moves in Marin County, a journal entry is created in the County’s financial system. To ensure that transactions are accurate and assigned correctly, every journal is reviewed at least twice: by departmental staff and central Accounting staff (at Level 30). Primary responsibility for level 30 approval rests with three accountants, who must process over 1500 journal entries per month. Journal entries all get a similar level of scrutiny, regardless of risk.


On average, it takes 23 days to approve a journal entry; 21 of those days are waiting for Accounting approval. Because of this bottleneck, County departments must work with a financial picture that’s a month out-of-date.

Meanwhile, Accounting staff spend close to 80 hours per month on approvals – roughly 0.5 FTE of staff time!

Working with PPI, Marin Finance convened an inter-departmental team including Treasury, Accounting, Information Services and Technology (IST), and client departments to identify categories of journal entries that were low-risk and low-complexity where Accounting review might not be needed.

WHAT WE LEARNED


The team dug into journal data to uncover possible categories of low-risk journals for expedited approval:

  • Journals below $1000 make up 18% of all entries, but only 0.01% of total funds.

  • Finance flagged more than a dozen different journal categories totaling several thousand journals where Accounting’s secondary review added little value and mitigated little risk.

THE PILOT

With Finance’s guidance, IST developed pilot workflow rules that re-routed groups of journals into a separate approval pathway: this way, Finance could observe what journals were caught by the new workflow rule to ensure that they were indeed low-risk and make changes before pulling the trigger on a system-wide change. This Agile process allowed for rapid testing and iteration of individual solutions, with no risk!

While the team initially hoped that low-risk journals could bypass accounting approval entirely, system limitations prevented the team from isolating the low-risk journals in this way. But the team didn't give up -- they pivoted!

If we can't skip the approval, maybe we can redirect it?


SOLUTIONS


Starting with Treasury and Central Collections, Finance opened accounting-level approval to more departmental staff, alleviating the bottleneck on the three Central Accounting staff.


This change appropriately focused central Accounting's expertise on the most complex journals, allowed departments to approve journals where they have subject matter expertise, and reduced the delay at Level 30. Accounting also developed standard work for journal approval, ensuring that journals receive similar scrutiny from different staff.



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