(Posted May 2023)

Congratulations! You have arrived at the Capstone 1 PEP module and are nearing the final stretch of your journey to the CFE. Despite this, many of you are not celebrating – you are beginning this stage with nervous expectation. Stories of endless revisions and colleagues working late into the night because of missing-in-action group members have made you dread this project. We invite you to let go of these expectations because, while challenging group members do exist, we have found the reality of Capstone 1 to be less bleak than the retold experiences suggest.

We are here to help you build new expectations that will contribute to your success in group work, your report, and your final presentation. Our CFE Prep courses also discuss further tips to help you succeed in Capstone 1.

The “A-Team”

Group work can fall apart when a member forces a dynamic that is not conducive to capitalizing on the abilities of the individuals. This is exacerbated by comparison, when a friend shares what is working for them, and you feel you need to create an exact replica.

While there are tools that can be useful to all groups, it is important to know a group is made up of individuals with unique communication habits, schedules, strengths, and lives. Let go of your image of the perfect group and lean into what brings the best out of your team.

Tips for building an “A-Team”:

  • Talk about your group’s expectations early. This does not mean one group member stating their expectations. Ask questions and be curious about your team. Do they expect to collaborate on sections or divide and conquer? How often do they expect to meet? How will you address revisions? Clarify expectations early so you can avoid misunderstandings later.
  • Implement reviews. Establish deadlines for completing your work and for another member to perform a sanity check. Mistakes happen. Having a fresh set of eyes on lengthy quantitative analysis is not to identify weaknesses, it is to build a stronger response for everyone and can prevent time consuming revisions.
  • Respect each other’s time. Do not insist on several hours of group meetings each week to co-write or co-review the response. Meetings with your entire group should be for high level planning, not for communal writing.
  • Do not complain about your group. Did you know research indicates that complaining damages the part of your brain responsible for problem solving and memory retention? Not only will thinking and speaking positively of your team improve the dynamic, but it may also help you work with greater efficiency and quality!

The Report

Not all submissions in Capstone 1 are created equal. From one deadline to the next, the length of time required to develop a strong response varies. This can be challenging to manage and establishing a plan is essential.

Tips for managing a long-term project:

  • This is a long-term project and should be treated as one. Take advantage of project management tools. Free websites or apps to list the large and small tasks ahead and plan out completion timelines is an excellent way to keep each other accountable and visualize the implications of delays. You will create a project plan in Excel as part of your submission which is an excellent tool to start with, but do not be afraid to explore more dynamic and user-friendly options, such as Gantt chart tools, that allow the team to establish deadlines and set reminders.
  • Keep a big picture focus. Remember that each submission is intended to be a component of the final report. Understanding the objectives of this final report early will help you write submissions that can easily be integrated into this report with less editing.
  • Use buffer days. If the submission is Friday evening, set the deadline for completing reviews by Thursday evening or earlier. Plan for the unexpected and avoid unnecessary stress by creating space for delays.
  • Leverage strengths. When possible, align the tasks with the skillset of your team. If a member has completed the PEP tax elective module and is strong in this competency, let them review the tax elements of the analysis your team prepares. Be mindful of workload and distribute tasks evenly.
  • Establish back-up meetings. Group meetings should be a priority and last-minute cancellations should not be regularly tolerated. Remember that life happens and set back-up meeting times in advance so if a meeting is cancelled at the last minute, there is a planned time you know all members are available, so you do not fall behind.

Capstone 1 has a high pass rate and most groups that follow the instructions from CPA are successful. While the tips above may not be the difference between passing and failing, it can be the difference between spending a reasonable amount of time or not, and creating division in the group, or building a team that cheers you on as you progress through the Capstone 2 module and prepare for the CFE.

Check back with us here on the blog for a future post about mastering your Capstone 1 presentation.