Like many managers, you're probably always looking for ways to improve your practice for business planning and for budgeting. We all face many challenges right now - financial pressures, increased costs, and currency changes, making it a daunting task to head into a budget conversation.
Budgets are important for all of us, but not everyone is an Excel power user or an accountant. You might be a non-financial manager, but you still have to know how to deal with and communicate your budget confidently to get the best results for your organization and deliver the outcomes you need.
Common challenges around budgets
Some of the most common challenges around budgets seem to be:
- the lack of understanding or narrative around the numbers
- conflicting budget versions that are out of date or inaccurate data
- several places to look for the full information
- manual consolidation of lots of different spreadsheets
- focusing on financial outcomes instead of including business outcomes
- understanding how to build a budget
- complexity of modelling your budget for different outcomes
Creating a budget requires many moving parts and phases. These phases can involve lots of back-and-forth with department managers before everything is finalized. Consequently, in larger organizations, challenges and complexities are magnified exponentially.
There are several tasks that can create complexity for budget owners, including:
- gathering information that goes into the budget from various sources
- creating complex formulas to consolidate the budget spreadsheets
- coordinating changes to the spreadsheets, updating numbers, and gathering the latest files for consolidation
- reviewing multiple iterations and changes.
Often there are inaccuracies in the data collected which can have a major impact on the allocation of resources in the budget. There is risk in consolidating Excel files, for multiple reasons.
It can take organizations three months or longer to manually complete a budget so starting the budget process as late in the year as possible to maximize the number of actual months available for budgeting isn't always an option.
Equally if the budgeting process is left to be completed at the end of a fiscal year when there is shortage of time and resources, this can produce inaccuracies in the budget which can be harmful for your business.
3. Continuous planning
Continuous planning involves reviewing the budget versus actual variance report monthly. Organizations should also plan to realign projections for the remaining months and perform “what if” scenarios to strategize and plan for future growth. However, not revisiting the budget regularly or modifying it as per the latest trends can result in the mismanagement of resources and can place you behind your competitors.
4. Excessive focus on financial outcomes
Since earning revenue and profits is a major component of how businesses measure their growth, most budgets focus on achieving the financial goals of the company and tend to overlook the need of improving the qualitative aspects of the business such as employee engagement or workplace satisfaction.
Although these factors may not directly contribute to the growth of a business, including them in the budget can improve your company’s work performance and standing in the business community in the long run.
Understand what you do have to do and get your budget sized right
Accurate reports are imperative for company budgets and using the right tool can also help in maintaining your budget for the remainder of the year. There are plenty of software platforms that can help you create and analyze your budget, but finding the right one in a sea of choices can be tough.
See and sort data
We can see numbers and we can see the summary, but we don't always know how things are connected. More often we have to go back and forth, speaking to different people to get the answers for each of these elements which takes time.
In a spreadsheet, we know that the numbers sum up, but it can be hard to assign money to different topics, projects, costs centres and see impact deliverables and tie those back to our strategy, aligning everything we do to our business plan and our resources. It can be hard to find the information you need:
- It's hard to see the events that affect our priorities
- Where the budget makes the most impact
- Which project is the one we really need to discuss
- Which are your critical projects in a list and what do you have to deliver?
Even with an interactive filter allowing you to look at high-risk projects, it can still be tricky to drill down and find the information that you really need. We have a lot more questions than we can easily find the answers to in each spreadsheet.
That same data in your spreadsheet can be imported into SharpCloud and displayed visually. You don't have to be an Excel expert because you can see the items you are talking about. You are making things visible and easy to communicate.
In this view, we can see different projects bordered by colour (green: in budget, red: over budget). By showing the relationships, it highlights where there are project dependencies and issues that imply our budget needs some attention. You can move projects around to ensure the right projects are going to delivered and in budget. The view instantly updates to show whether the selected projects will remain in budget allowing you to make any necessary changes or provoke discussion.
This is dynamic. It keeps that one version of the data true for everyone to work on. There is no rework or wasted time. Visuals like this can really help us, which makes sense when we consider our brain is mainly an image processor.
There may be things that are open to influence and discussion and other areas that are non-negotiable. Using a view like this helps you define your budget in a clearer way and you can bring all the information into one place to discuss it and decide the best course of action.
- Do you know the strategic priorities that you have for this year?
- Do you also understand what you have to deliver and where you have more flexibility?
How do you currently discuss and make decisions around this kind of thing at the moment?
Let's look at projects prioritization size by return on investment. You have to spend your budgets in a certain way that you hope to maximize your impact and return. Sizing projects by return on the investment can help us to identify which projects we might want to do.
For example, a project that costs £77,000 is sized by a large return on investment. Bringing this project across into your budget for this year is going to give you an increased impact. The budget will now increase, the costs increase and the profits increase. You've got immediate visibility of how moving that one project from one column to another increases our costs for the year, but you still remain in budget.
Remember, when you're doing your budget planning, what you say no to is just as important as what you'll deliver. You must consider your business, your organization, what it wants to do in the next year, and what are the outcomes it wants to achieve.
Cost timeline and objectives
Here you can see all projects on a timeline and the spend profile during that period. You can use this view to change and balance the spend, but most vitally you can turn on relationships and see which of these projects delivers the most towards your business objectives.
Seeing the connected projects in the spend profile means that you are aligning and tying together your financial picture. It's easy to model and see the change in impact if you want to do something differently. Trying to balance the budget and modelling over time, finishing projects sooner, looking at the dependencies can really help you extract the value that you need from your budget against your objectives.
Visualizing risks and dependencies
This view is a risk-based view. Different elements of the data give us a view from a different angle. You may have risks that are out of your control in shared delivery, but in this view we can see that our most connected risk is the one here highlighted in red, Cyber Attacks.
Clicking on the risk gives us the details of the projects that it's connected to and the impact it may have if it occurs and we can open it up for more information and more detail on the nature of the risk.
Our budgets are not static. Although we have to think about them at key times of the year, we still need to be agile and manage change constantly. Our circumstances are changing all the time and our delivery always has to happen against all key objectives. Inflation, supply chains and other factors can make a difference to our cost at any given point.
In this view, we can see projects that we want to deliver, how complete they are and how much overspend we have recorded against them.
Seeing the projects and spend help us identify the items where we need to take action to mitigate the increased costs or to manage it differently. We can also turn on the relationships to see which projects are connected because we may have ones with critical overspend, connected to ones where we are significantly underspent.
By adding project owners as filters we can see how individuals are managing their projects and we can see the full view to understand if there are any particular areas where we're facing overspend or underspend and improve our performance...this data is tracked, it's dynamic, and it's giving you a lot more information than a static document.
A management dashboard summary shows us the delivery, the current state of the return on investment of a project, the current spend and current revenue. You can manage your forecast and use information presented in a way like this to support the project with your management and leadership team and communicate and identify areas for attention.
SharpCloud offer valuable techniques to overcome these common challenges:
- lack of understanding and narrative around numbers
- conflicting budget versions and using one set of data
- ability to store that information in one place
- bringing together information from different spreadsheets,
- focusing on financial outcomes and not your business outcomes
- understanding how to simply model budgets for different outcomes
We can't make you more money but we can hopefully identify ways that you can be more effective with the spend that you do have.