11/12/2013 10:15 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Accountants & Designers: Creating Value Together

Financing is the lifeblood that runs though all business endeavors and creative projects are no exception. Neglecting this fact for even a short time can cause creativity to wither away. Accountants and controllers are traditionally the supporting angels here, assisting design teams by keeping projects on a viable track.

While there are plenty of opportunities for improvement, cross-functional understanding is one area to be addressed, since collaboration is essential for creating and capturing value. This begets the question:

How can accountants help designers to be more productive?
Accounts and controllers typically help keep designers within budget, so, how might these finance geniuses help designers to increase their innovation performance, besides just handling budgeting and tracking?

When we posed this question to the creative community, there were no shortage of thoughts, opinions and suggestions as to how accountants could add more value to the design process. Here is the quintessence of what we learned.

For good collaboration, an equitable relationship needs to exist and it is important for both accountants and designers to have a stake in the objectives and goals of the design process.

Designers could invite accountants to be part of the team, to feel the pain, and share the responsibility and accountability for value creation. Living within the team, may help everyone to discover opportunities for reinventing the business and budget system, maybe even assisting with business model experimentation.

Designers especially called for help with "Big Data" to assist them discover opportunities in marketing and sales to be used to better target their efforts. Quantitative analysis can assist by taking the concept, be it business or product, and applying mathematical modeling to a variety of scaling scenarios. This would assist designers in exploring "what if" questions while establishing the best direction for balancing value creation and cost.

Modeling the future with mathematical modeling and giving designers and business leaders insights into how their ideas will impact the new markets they are attempting to create would obviously be extremely useful. In addition, accountants' analytical skills could be used to advantage for conciliating data and uncovering conflicting information, before it becomes a design decision-making problem. Accounting could also shed light on the value of activities and collaboration, which could help remove the walls between the functional silos.

Budgeting of projects and handling of changes when scale, scope or directions change, is another area where designers could do with support. There seems to be a general lack of understanding about how time, cost, quality and risk are interconnected. Accountants could teach designers how to balance cost, time and quality, starting from the junior design level and up.

When projects are done faster, decisions are being made and changed faster, with an inherent risk of miscommunication, redundant work, mistakes and re-work. Availability and coordination of resources now plays an even greater role, calling for more effective, efficient and dynamic management. Delay in management decisions and resource allocation can cause a ripple effect, severely slowing down the design process, so, developing practical methods for handling this process would be very useful.

Design is typically five percent of the product developments' budget; however design allocates eighty percent of the final cost of the product. This makes early and effective costing, that is based on limited conceptual information, essential. In this way, senior management can make decisions regarding the capital structure of the company when it comes time to finance a new project.

After all, companies that 'lead with design' are admired by their customers, extolled by the media and are valued more highly by investors in the financial marketplace. This advantage in the marketplace extends not merely to soft benefits, such as brand awareness and preference, but to key performance metrics guiding and enabling business growth.

Nevertheless, assigning measurable value to the role and output of design is not an easy task, often leading to design departments feeling under resourced. So, when accountants and designers jointly develop methods to better identify and quantify value creation and to capture those opportunities, the chances of their ideas being quickly understood by management increases, together with their likelihood of success.