“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”  ―  Mike Tyson


Photo Credit: Flickr/TimBo

Understanding and doing something about your company’s performance used to be simpler.  Forecasts were adjusted quarterly using plans that were created annually. This is like printing the weather forecast for your vacation 6 months from now and never looking at it until you land at the resort – it’s just not current enough to be relevant.

And what about how these plans were “modeled”? The models were based on  information that existed mainly inside the company’s transactional systems and finessed by the FP&A team to drive yet another version of the plan. Getting everyone in the company aligned to the new plan was as “simple” as emailing everyone the latest book of reports – in Excel.

And then … modeling hell would ensue. Every user would take the report, extract, manipulate and make changes on their own to understand how the business was really varying and what to do about it.

Companies trying to transform in the age of increased competitive pressure, market volatility and a changing workforce are starting to realize that the information that really matters exists outside their walls (and it’s large). They are also realizing that having planning confined to only a few power users doesn’t generate the kind of transparency and alignment the organization needs to succeed. They need to know when they’ve been punched in the face and quickly modify plans to adapt.   Or better yet, dodge the punch all together and connect with a right hook of their own.

The only way to do that is to transform planning from a scheduled activity to one that happens every time the business changes. Continuously.

In my conversations with customers, I’ve found that innovative companies are taking similar steps in their journey of business transformation.  I picked a few of these best practices to share, and hope you find them useful as you follow your own path toward continuous planning, empowering more people to be involved and take action to impact your business.

1. Start with the business drivers not the data        
More often than not planning processes get implemented by trying to “mold” the business needs to the data structures that modelers think are needed.  Instead, start by identifying the things that really drive your business and build your process around it. This will focus people on what really matters instead of how the data is structured.

2. Empower everyone to be a planner, especially the edge of your organization
These days, every employee has a smartphone, a tablet, or both. But current planning processes and solutions take advantage of neither, leaving employees—and critical business decisions—dependent on dashboards and reports that live on the desktop. You can’t get to continuous planning if you wait for people to be in the office to participate. When you take advantage of key emerging technologies, such as mobile and cloud computing, you can empower the masses to take action from anywhere, at any time. People can see the current plan, the context to support it – with unstructured data and collaborations, and they can impact it. This step alone facilitates huge transformation – allowing people in the field to make adjustments to key drivers and assumptions and see the impact on the full plan in real time.

3. Involve all functional areas – planning is not just about finance
Traditionally, planning has been limited to a small number of financial analysts supporting the lines-of-business with input from a handful of senior executives. Instead, focus on empowering the right people in the organization (no matter where they are) to quickly react to market dynamics. When the right people in the organization can see the trends, adjust drivers and make changes without delay, organizational agility and efficiency will blossom.

4. Capture and share the actions of the many, continuously
Experience always makes the best decision-makers. But often these decision-makers have developed their own style of compartmentalizing knowledge in some form – personal spreadsheets, an email filing system, or simply a great memory for details. Capturing, collaborating, and sharing knowledge helps the business know what worked and what didn’t— so everyone in the company can make more informed decisions, faster. Of course, you need new technologies to be able to capture the experience of your best employees and share it across the entire organization.

5. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
One of the biggest barriers to getting more people involved is the tool being used to manage the plan. Whether it’s a legacy technology or a comprehensive Excel model, chances are it is unusable by anyone outside of the few power users.  The broader user community expects an experience that reflects their consumer experience. When was the last time you called LinkedIn to ask them to change the way you see who’s looking at your profile? Somehow what you experience is exactly what you wanted. To reach the goal of continuous planning, you have to provide a user experience that is simple to use, fully addresses the needs of mobile workers, and facilitates action by everyone involved in the process. That experience will trump algorithms and models every time.

The most important measure of how a company is performing is not the plan but the variance from it. You can’t get there by running the business the old way with new tools. You need applications that enable you to transform your business now and in the future.

What do you do about your company’s planning and performance variances? Do you employ any of these practices to drive towards a continuous planning process?