Manual, spreadsheet-based planning may have worked well enough in a more predictable age. But today? Not so much. Volatile conditions demand a smarter approach to financial planning and analysis (FP&A), and more and more finance professionals are discovering that legacy planning processes don’t let you go there.
It’s not that spreadsheets aren’t great—we love them. But, let’s face it, spreadsheets break down if you’re trying to rely on them systematically to gather data from across the organization, roll up departmental plans, or do complex, collaborative planning.
Even traditional market forces have proven challenging to companies relying on old-world technologies and approaches. Technological advances, ever-increasing customer expectations, and smarter, data-driven decision-making put pressure on finance teams to find new ways to operate with agility.
But how do you plan in a way that allows you to respond to such events, from the predictable to the unlikely?
The answer begins—and ends—with a modern approach to planning.
Why old-world planning is a disadvantage
The traditional planning models finance teams relied on for decades aren’t just a questionable choice in times of disruption—they can leave your business at a grave disadvantage. Businesses hampered by outdated planning processes are often left scrambling to react to changes while more agile competitors outpace, outperform, and outmaneuver them. Look around you: The companies that are performing well at this minute have pivoted—sometimes substantially—in a matter of weeks, sometimes days. Their business agility has become their defining attribute for success.
It’s safe to conclude that many of these agile businesses aren’t weighed down by manual, episodic, and siloed planning. Rather, they’ve likely embraced a more modern approach to planning—planning that’s collaborative, comprehensive, and continuous. These businesses consistently minimize risk, maximize performance, and create competitive advantages because their planning empowers greater business agility.
The difference between static and modern planning can be stark. Legacy planning tools are typically bogged down by versioning headaches and siloed, instantly perishable data. In contrast, modern, strategic planning models allow teams to broaden planning data beyond finance, pulling in real-time operational and transactional data from ERP, HCM, and other slices of the enterprise stack—all to make better, data-driven decisions quickly.
Laying the groundwork for business agility
As many companies recognized even before the current crisis, agility is a business imperative—and this more modern approach to planning is the key to achieving it. These three milestones will get you started on your journey to achieving a new way to plan.
1. Assess the status quo
Before you map out where you’re going, you need to understand where you are. Take inventory of the current state of your company, more specifically the business planning obstacles keeping you from implementing a more modern and streamlined planning environment. More than likely, these obstacles will pertain to people, processes, or technology, or some combination thereof.
Assessing where you are means getting granular.
- What do your current business planning processes look like?
- How long does it take you to create a budget? A forecast? An annual plan?
- Where are opportunities for improvement?
- Who are your planning stakeholders?
- What technology do you have in place, and how well is it serving you?
- What data challenges need attention?
- What are the bottlenecks?
- What could be automated that isn’t?
- Are there any opportunities for automated data integration?
- What are you lacking in workforce planning?
Answering questions like these will help you get a clear sense of what you’re working with and where you can improve.
2. Get organizational alignment
Being a change agent is no easy task. That’s why you’ll need to recruit a savvy senior-level advocate to help champion planning as a worthy and necessary cause. Along with your senior advisor, you’ll need a task force representative of other departments outside of finance, including operations, sales, and HR. Don’t forget to include IT to help you navigate technology needs and coordinate various data sources.
The next move is to align these key people with the business agility cause you’re championing.
How? Build a business case.
You can do this by quantifying the impact that the organization’s current status quo has on the company. What are manual processes and bottlenecks costing your business in time and money? What opportunities are passing you by? Conversely, what would those measurement strategies and KPI models look like if you implemented a modern, or active planning model? Try to unearth more nuanced ROI measures—for instance, how cutting budget time in half could give your people more time to run critical what-if scenarios—to really drive home the meaningful change that a modern agility planning model would bring.
Once your team is in place and your pain points recognized and quantified, you can map out a plan for your initial project. Consider focusing your initial effort on a function within finance so you’ll have control over the rollout. Develop a multiphased plan that clearly communicates goals, a concise and actionable plan, and the key metrics for your KPI model. The ability to effectively communicate the why behind this initiative will help secure any executive buy-in you need for the how. A comprehensive and well-thought-out plan will go a long way toward achieving that.
3. Expand across the business
As noted above, there’s a strong case for beginning the rollout of your new planning model in finance and focusing on low-hanging fruit to bring early and easy wins. You’re motoring along, mapping projects, tracking and communicating progress, analyzing KPI reports, and making necessary tweaks. Once a rhythm and familiarity are in place, broaden your scope beyond finance. Initiate planning projects that engage HR, sales, or marketing. This is where you begin to extend the use and impact of modern, company-wide planning.
The key in this phase is to strengthen cross-departmental communication and collaboration. Don’t fall into the trap of relying on your technology or tools to do the heavy lifting. It will be easier to realize and maintain success with regular stakeholder one-on-ones, identifying lessons learned along the way, uncovering opportunities for more ingenuity and improvement, and communicating success and congratulations when they’re warranted.
Doing this will help elevate the role of finance to a strategic force within your organization by orchestrating planning throughout the business. Finance will no longer be known primarily for gathering budget numbers and issuing reports. Instead, your business will look to finance to drive the change and innovation needed to not only weather times of uncertainty, but to thrive in them.
These three pillars lay the groundwork for creating a more agile planning environment—one that will help you plan for what’s coming, whatever that may be. With this foundation and the insights we’ll share in subsequent blogs, you’ll be much better equipped to map your way forward into that tomorrow.
The bottom line
It’s never been easier to define the main driver of business success. It comes down to how fast your business can identify and proactively respond to change. But if your business is mired in static planning —characterized by long planning cycles, immediately obsolete plans, siloed efforts, and hard-to-find errors—it won’t be operating with maximum speed or agility.
This is doubly true in today’s fast-paced, data-driven world. Businesses hampered by outdated planning processes are often left scrambling to react to changes while more agile competitors outpace, outperform, and outmaneuver them.
Wherever you are on your planning maturity journey, the tasks here will help you expand and accelerate business agility by:
- Creating a new kind of planning mechanism that’s distributed, inclusive, and optimized for your strategic objectives.
- Empowering finance to continuously deliver insights that help the business course-correct. To power better, faster decision-making in ever-shorter cycles based on rolling forecasts and real-time (and eventually, predictive) data.
The truth is, building a continuous one-to-one alignment between your strategic vision and your operational reality isn’t easy. It’s something very few businesses can claim. You won’t get there overnight and you will face hurdles.
But it only takes a few small steps in the right direction before momentum starts to build. Before long, those steps will amount to a giant leap forward and significant competitive advantage as business agility accelerates exponentially.