Being Planful: Helpful FP&A Resources to Navigate an Uncertain World

Being Planful: Helpful FP&A Resources to Navigate an Uncertain World

More parts of the economy are reopening, giving companies a better view into how their early recovery plans are working. But as news of a second government stimulus program and a reduction in the unemployment rate conflict with regional COVID-19 spikes and warnings of a second wave later this year, the future is anything but certain. So FP&A can expect to continue their frequent what-ifs and revised modeling while the business reacts to changing supplier and customer needs.

Here are a few expert opinions we’ve found helpful in the past few weeks, and we hope you do, too. We’d love to hear from you, so please join our FP&A Slack Community and share your thoughts and suggestions. It is publicly available to everyone to discuss ideas related to the current crisis as seen from the FP&A perspective.

What the Experts are Saying on FP&A

WSJ: Advice for CFOs on Leading in a Time of Change: Be Forthcoming

The Wall Street Journal’s CFO Network Summit asked executives to share how they’re managing the current demands and conflicts of their role. While the CEO of Intel recommended frankness, the chairman of the Financial Accounting Standards Board pointed to the inherent role of FP&A as the buffer between market volatility and the business. But how CFO’s perform now might just define how their own future plays out. “Navigating a crisis can be a make-or-break moment for senior executives.”

CFODive: Where do you fall on the CFO spectrum?

One-third of CEO’s think their CFO isn’t up to the challenge of their increasingly significant role as financial chief. The disruption of COVID-19 has created a need for CFO’s who offer more than just financial skills, and who bring creativity, communication, and technology expertise to this expanding role. “What was once the highlight of a CFO’s resume — extensive financial management and accounting experience — is now a minimum requirement.”

ZDNet: CFOs eye revenue rebuilding, hybrid work arrangements, and agility for COVID-19 waves

A recent PwC survey of finance leaders found that a new wave of COVID-19 infections was their top concern, followed by impacts of a global downturn and general financial impacts. But executives are also looking at how they deal with those concerns with an eye towards the future and seeing things like work flexibility, increased agility, and new technology investments as actually improving their organization in the long run. “It’s clear there’s a hybrid work environment ahead and executives are planning for all options for employees.”

Forbes: RockStar CFOs In Times Of Crisis

What makes a CFO a great executive doesn’t change during a crisis. The traditional core attributes are always necessary, and the last economic disruption in 2008 elevated the role of CFO in both importance and respect. Those who’ve excelled in the role since then should continue to do so even during these tough times. “Strategic thinking, ethical leadership and building your team are all unquestionably more important now than ever.”

Deloitte / The Wall Street Journal: Virtual and Remote: Navigating the Next Financial Close

Most organizations have likely performed their first close and consolidation to be done remotely. But more are surely in everyone’s future. Obviously, technology played a part, be it simple email or advanced predictive analytics. Now is the time to take stock of your virtual close shortcomings and look to build a foundation for your next close. “Lack of investments in virtual technologies have remained chronic hindrances at many companies. The pandemic’s onset only amplified those risks—and created new ones of its own.”

Gartner: Gartner Survey Shows CFOs Will Make More Cost Cuts in 2020

CFO’s continue to cut costs as COVID-19 uncertainty extends into 2021. A recent survey found that, even with the massive cuts in budgets through May, additional cuts are already planned. Full-year 2020 reductions range from an average estimate of 25% for Marketing to near 10% for even the least-impacted teams. But, some FP&A teams are already looking to boost budgets in preparation for a brighter 2021. “Expanding IT and sales budgets, however, means that CFOs are investing for the next phase of growth.”

Stay Tuned for More Useful FP&A Content

We’ll be continuing this weekly update with links related to how FP&A and CFO’s are leading their organizations through the continuing reopenings and recoveries. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions, please do what?

Until next week, follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more news and information. 

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Start Your Continuous Planning Journey with Planful Now

Start Your Continuous Planning Journey with Planful Now

Planful Now was prompted by the struggle FP&A teams were facing in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, where uncertainty was the only known factor and agility was the only viable reaction. Planful Now offers a solution to your most pressing FP&A challenges by compressing cycle times, impacting every corner of your business, and building connectivity and collaboration into your FP&A processes. And it does it in less than 30 days and with minimal risk.

But even as we are well on our way to opening up large swaths of our communities and economies, that uncertainty, and the resulting need for agility, hasn’t waned. Which is why Planful Now remains a compelling program aimed at the use cases that are slowing you down, diminishing your agility, or impeding your collaboration with the business. 

But don’t look at Planful Now as a single solution to a single area of concern. Planful Now is, in fact, a flexible first step on any organization’s Continuous Planning journey. You choose where to start and which use case will have the most impact, and then you start using Planful. And this is a true rollout, where, in under 30 days, you’ll actually be using Planful for cash flow forecasting, workforce planning, monthly close and consolidation, or any one of a number of other use cases. 

Then, as that first use case is accelerated, modernized, and connected, you move on to the next, and then the next, and repeat. In just a few months, you can expand the benefits of Continuous Planning to the corners of your organization by aiming it where you need it most. It’s a step-by-step rollout, where you choose the steps.

Here’s how some Planful customers have started their own Continuous Planning journeys with Planful Now. 

SmartyPants Vitamins

SmartyPants Vitamins went live on Planful in just 20 days, focusing on their highest impact and most critical FP&A use cases first to get a fast ROI and quick buy-in from the business. They chose to tackle Financial Reporting and Sales and Trade Planning first, and quickly had 20 sales managers using the Planful. The FP&A team is also using Planful for rolling monthly forecasts. 

“With Planful, we were up and running with our Sales and Trade spend forecast templates in three weeks,” said Cheryl Chow, Senior Finance Manager at SmartyPants Vitamins. “Planful provided amazingly fast time-to-value, enabling the FP&A team to plan their quarterly reforecast following Q1 close, prepare for an upcoming board meeting, and create new forecasts for sales, advertising, and other areas without breaking our stride.”

Temple University

Temple University was live on Planful in just 4 weeks by focusing on Financial Consolidation and Reporting to get the fast time-to-value. They’re already rolling out Structured Planning for FP&A, and will be bringing Planful Dynamic Planning to 20 users outside of Finance. Eventually, the FP&A team plans to push Planful out to every corner of the university, including a campus in Japan. 

Carta

Carta was growing fast, but their reliance on spreadsheets held them back. This software company was experiencing delays, errors, and a lack of visibility for FP&A and the business—all because of spreadsheets. So they rolled out Planful in just 6 weeks, and it quickly cut more than a day’s worth of work from their weekly financial reporting process. Now, as they recover from the COVID-19 crisis, they’re rolling out Planful Workforce Planning and Sales Planning to teams outside of Finance. 

“It became clear Planful could get us high time-to-value as fast as possible,” said Kevin Zell, Head of Strategic Finance at Carta. “We were able to start building reports and have them in Planful very quickly. That alone took about 10 hours out of our process.”

Bose Corporation

In a timely example, Bose Corporation was already using Planful for Workforce Planning to automate and optimize headcount. But in the wake of the COVID-19 closures of their retail operations, they’re now using Planful to develop their reopening plans. Planful’s fast what-if scenario planning and monthly forecasting are also proving critical as the company plans for reopening. And, their Continuous Planning journey goes on as they’re already preparing to use Planful for demand and supply planning.

“Being able to re-forecast quickly and efficiently in the next 12 months is going to be hugely helpful for us as we pivot and redirect the ship with COVID-19,” said Luis Martinez Luna, Sr. Financial & Business Analyst, Corporate FP&A at Bose Corporation.

Start Your Journey Now

If you haven’t seen the video overview delivered by our SVP Marketing, Rowan Tonkin, you can stream it here. Go ahead. We’ll wait. 

Planful Now is more than just an offer; it’s a delivery model that serves as the first step on your Continuous Planning journey, where you get to choose the most impactful area to start, and then decide how you expand the value from there. It won’t disrupt FP&A or your business, and you’ll be hands-on with Planful in less than a month. That’s an extremely fast time-to-value with an equally impressive ROI. 

With continued uncertainty in our future, now’s not the time to wait. Now’s the time to put the right tools in place so you are ready for the next market shock. Planful Now lets you compress FP&A cycle times, push the value out to every corner of the business, and build a more connected and collaborative organization. 

Planful Now comes with very little risk yet delivers plenty of upside, so why not get started today? 

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My finance war stories: Not much different than yours

My finance war stories: Not much different than yours

Growing up alongside five brothers in a small Utah town, you could say I was raised in a survivalist household. My parents even adhered to the old adage, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Simply put, if we didn’t grow it, we didn’t eat it.

One of my favorite childhood memories is a 15-day survival trek where the only food we brought with us was a 20-ounce bag of wheat. (Believe me when I say that good planning was critical to surviving that trip.) I didn’t know it then, but survival and the need for good planning would follow me throughout my career in finance.

Since joining Planful, I get asked a lot about why I’m so excited about Continuous Planning. To give a thoughtful answer to this question, I’ve been reflecting on my career and I’ve realized that in many ways, I’ve been largely focused on my survival skills before Planful.

For years, I’ve been looking for a better way to plan. While I didn’t know it then, it’s clear to me now that I was searching for Continuous Planning.

3 stories from the finance trenches

Like many finance professionals, I’ve spent a large portion of my career simply making do with Excel and other inflexible tools. I’ve struggled with the same blockers that finance teams face today: version control issues, endless analysis iterations, nonstop fire drills, clogs in communication, and delayed planning processes.

I’ve always felt the need for good planning, but I was always too busy just trying to survive to find the time to figure out what, exactly, good planning should look like. 

Looking back on some of my experiences, I can see exactly how a Continuous Planning solution would have eliminated my pain points. Here are three stories from the finance trenches and the lessons I have learned from each.

#1. When you’re so busy “planning” that you can’t get to the “doing”

When I was the vice president of finance at a large, publicly-traded company, our teams often joked about how long it took us to budget each year. We would start our annual planning process in September and not fully finish until the following June. This left us with just a few months in the year to actually get anything else done.

Despite our best intentions, we still got the budgets wrong and occasionally sent the wrong information to the wrong people. There were also more times than I’d like to admit when we arrived at what we thought was an ending point, only to realize there was another viewpoint that required us to rework the entire corporate plan and budget

The lesson learned: At the time, we were so busy just trying to plan that it was tough for us to finally execute. We were also constantly checking back to see if we were working on the most updated file. We just didn’t have a collaborative cloud platform like Planful.

#2. Missing deadlines before numbers are even distributed

If I’ve learned one thing throughout the years, it’s that many companies struggle to figure out how to plan fast enough. One year, we were so late getting our budgets finalized that we missed our quarterly deadlines before the budget owners even got their numbers. 

Building a plan and rolling forecast — these things are hard enough to do once or twice a year. Now more than ever, we need to plan and reforecast even more frequently. If it was tough to course-correct in the past, it’s even more difficult to do so today.

The lesson learned: The speed and agility of a Continuous Planning process, coupled with the ability to ramp up quickly during implementation, are really fundamental building blocks for finance teams today.

#3. Conversations about growth > arguments over accuracy

I had a CFO once ask me to consolidate the company’s bookings report. “That’s not a big task,” I thought to myself. Well, not until I found out that the company had 29 distinct bookings reports, and not one of them was tied to another. 

Instead of spending days with different department heads talking about growth plans, we ended up spending weeks consolidating data and arguing about why the data was inconsistent or incorrect. 

The lesson learned: With a single source of truth, our conversations could have shifted from debates over the accuracy of numbers to discussions around what we were actually doing or could do about the data.

Resolving hard lessons with an easy solution

When I first saw the speed and the single source of truth in the Planful platform, it resonated with me at every turn. Circling back to the question from the very beginning, I’m excited about Continuous Planning because it’s a liberating platform and a must-have, not a nice-to-have, in today’s business environments. 

Here’s why: As keepers of the purse, so to speak, finance leaders tend to be hyper-attentive on what they spend on their own teams and their own tools. As a result, I’ve seen delays in updating the finance back office, delays in moving to the cloud, and delays in deploying tools that are truly game-changers in an unsettled world. 

These delays can be extremely costly. In times of business uncertainty, being able to see and act with clarity is crucial for finance teams, and our decisions are only as good as the data and plans they are based on. 

A Continuous Planning solution provides that clarity. It helps finance teams make faster, more frequent, and more confident decisions. It gives finance teams a break from simply trying to survive, and gives CFOs and finance leaders the opportunity to lead their organizations with agility, data-backed decisions, and thoughtful planning.

The adage of “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” fared really well growing up in the Hansen household. But for finance and the tools we use, the times of “make it do or do without” are well behind us.

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Making Continuous Planning a reality is critical now more than ever

Making Continuous Planning a reality is critical now more than ever

For the past few months, we’ve been closely monitoring the planning landscape and coming to some realizations. One of them is this: despite the time and resources that go into the planning process, financial plans and budgets — now more than ever — remain at risk of being outdated before they make it out the door.

The uncertainty over this period is evidence of this. It has shown us, in a stark and horrifying way, just how fragile our plans and expectations for our businesses and our lives truly are. These months also have shown us how interconnected and uncertain the world is. How the things we control are far outweighed by the things we don’t.

Before the pandemic, we were already in a state of continuous change. Businesses today have so many different variables, and deviations from our plans that require re-forecasting or course-correcting decisions have been completely normal up until now, if not wholly expected. 

Yet where we could try to predict the future with some degree of confidence just a few months ago, we now face a world of incredible uncertainty. As we try to come up with answers to all of the questions we have about the future, we’re destined to get a lot of them wrong. 

Questions such as: When will the economy be fully up and running? When will business confidence and investments start to rise? What does our future supply chain look like? How will we withstand the next inevitable pandemic?

The solution to this conundrum isn’t simply hoping you get some of these answers right. The solution is to become truly agile as an organization — to become a Continuous Planning company. 

So, what does Continuous Planning mean for finance?

By 2024, Gartner predicts that 70% of new financial planning and analysis projects will become extended planning and analysis (xP&A) projects, extending their scope beyond the finance domain into other areas of enterprise planning and analysis. According to John Van Decker and Bob Anderson, research VP analysts at Gartner,  the office of finance is uniquely positioned to drive these continuous, company-wide financial planning and analysis initiatives.¹

We couldn’t agree more: Transforming the office of finance into an agile, Continuous Planning organization remains a strategic opportunity for every business.

It’s important to note that when we talk about Continuous Planning, we’re not talking about a software product — although technology is certainly one component of it. Rather, what we’re talking about is an organizational capability

Continuous Planning is a framework for faster, smarter, and agile financial decision making in business. At its core, it recognizes that the nature of business is continuous and, therefore, planning and decision making should be continuous as well.

The antiquated idea that planning is something a business only does once a year (usually as part of an incredibly painful end-of-year process) spells disaster for making future decisions. Why? It’s simple: because constant change and unpredictable events have become the norm, and that makes those annual plans obsolete the minute they’re finalized.

Business advantage in the world we live in comes from being nimble, agile, and smart with our resources. At Planful, we believe business leaders achieve this competitive advantage through Continuous Planning, and that three core truths guide this framework.

These truths, when integrated fully throughout the business, can help business leaders respond to changing business conditions at a moment’s notice — faster than their competitors — to capitalize on new opportunities, protect against threats, and take the lead in their markets.

Truth #1: Compressed cycle times glean greater business insight

Compressing cycle times happens by automating the routine, time-consuming, and laborious tasks that often plague the finance department. Streamlining these tasks provides innumerous benefits to finance teams and the business alike.

Take the financial close process, for example. By automating the financial close process, decision-makers across the business have more immediate, frequent interactions with the most current, trustworthy data. They can quickly understand what’s changed in their business and in the market, and then incorporate those insights into a new budget or re-forecast.

As cycle times compress, planning and decision making occurs faster and more frequently across the whole business. This paradigm empowers the business with speed and agility to pivot and course-correct when business conditions change

Truth #2: Finance needs to be present in every corner of the business

Once cycle times have been compressed, we start to think about how we expand planning and financial decision-making rigor into every corner of the business. We often start with use cases in the office of finance, such as close and consolidation, regulatory reporting, OPEX planning, revenue planning, cash-flow forecasting, and workforce planning. 

This is where the real transformation of finance begins.

Once we’ve done this, we’re able to liberate the finance team from the handcuffs of mundane, arduous tasks. This gives them an opportunity to transform from a reactive, service-desk-style organization into a strategic business partner who can lead and drive the culture and vision of Continuous Planning into other parts of the business.

The finance team can then better engage with their business counterparts by delivering bespoke, customized data models, plans, and user experiences that are designed for the way each business unit plans and executes their specific business functions. 

Truth #3: Planning should be connected and collaborative

The third truth of Continuous Planning is the connection and collaboration that brings people, data, and decisions together. We all know that effective planning and decision making cannot happen in silos. It’s a collaborative effort that requires input, expertise, and engagement from the leaders and experts in every corner of the business. 

So why do silos still exist? One reason is because finance and their business counterparts tend to operate at different levels of data, use different tools, and are focused on different objectives and timelines, all of which adds to a breakdown in communication and collaboration. 

This is where technology becomes key. The Planful platform enables real-time connection and collaboration throughout the planning process. It enables people in all corners of the company to understand the context behind the numbers, and captures the thinking behind the decisions. It empowers business teams to share insights and ideas, learn from each other, and understand how their individual decisions and actions impact other departments and the company as a whole. Soon, these business teams start elevating their financial IQ, and make more informed plans and decisions more frequently. And the finance team is at the center of it all, driving the transformation.

Executed together, these three truths empower true finance transformation and equip business leaders with the insights and agility they need to make strategic decisions in the face of uncertainty.

Given the ongoing uncertainty in the world, some might say that planning is dead. In some ways this is largely true: the traditional aspects of business planning — annual and manual — are indeed defunct. In its place, however, has come a more agile, reflexive, and Continuous Planning process.

Today, we have a much more planful way to make decisions.

Ready to explore what Continuous Planning can do for your business? Transform the way your finance team operates in just 30 days!

¹ Gartner: 2020 Strategic Roadmap for Cloud Financial Planning and Analysis Solutions, February 2020

Disclaimer: Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally, and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

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