As the end of April approaches, your finance team has likely been comparing the live results from the first quarter to the yearly forecast.
If your organization is lucky (and yes, luck can be a part of good planning) the numbers won’t be too far off. However, unforeseen factors and market volatility can result in extreme variations, causing good strategic decision making to be difficult.
Unsurprisingly, that’s not a good thing.
These unforeseen variations severely constrain the traditional budgeting and financial forecasting process. Trying to account for factors that may (or may not) occur over a year in advance is difficult in the best cases, and nearly impossible when the market or your industry is experiencing uncertainty or volatility.
So, what’s the solution? For many organizations, it’s moving away from traditional financial forecasting and into a rolling planning system.
That’s what I want to cover in this post. Many organizations are looking for better options over the traditional annual financial forecasting model.
My goal here is to cover some of the key factors to consider when exploring rolling quarterly planning and a few of the best practices that go along with it.
A rolling financial forecast allows businesses to project out as the year progresses, as opposed to relying on a single forecast for an entire cycle.
Typically, with a quarterly rolling forecast, businesses project out approximately four to six quarters ahead, irrespective of the calendar date or year.
If you’re considering moving to a rolling financial forecast system, there are a few factors you should think about as they pertain to your organization.
One thing many businesses strive for today is agility. Management teams want to be able to make decisions more quickly based on live numbers, not just projections.
Rolling financial forecasts help do this by having a constant stream of updated data in the system. Decisions made in the third or fourth quarter of a fiscal year aren’t dependent on projections that are eight to twelve months old with a rolling forecast. Instead, these numbers will have been updated in the last month or quarter (depending on the structure of your system).
Flexibility is another important factor key decision makers look for in a rolling forecast system and goes hand in hand with agility. Rolling financial forecasts enable decisions to be made on a more operational level, which is something many organizations see as a strategic boon.
Businesses want to create synergy between the financial and operational sides of the organization. The goal is to make it easier for the management team to understand trends and opportunities as they arise and have a plan in place, rather than trying to decide on the fly with incomplete (and often incorrect) information.
The ability to set up a good year-round system for planning is another key factor. Depending on how your organization is structured, a new cycle of planning could mean that financial forecasting is set to monthly sessions, when data is updated and evaluated based on key business drivers.
There are a number of benefits to rolling forecasting. It removes the time and energy suck of doing all the planning and financial forecasting at one fixed point during the year. It also allows for more coordination between departments, making the finance team a key player in the operational side of the business.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the key factors to consider, you should also keep some best practices in mind.
While Excel might currently be your best tool for budgeting, it’ll only hamper your efforts here. Excel simply is not powerful or sophisticated enough to generate the information you’ll need to perform rolling quarterly forecasts accurately.
Plan Your Duration
While I’ve used quarterly planning as an example here, some organizations prefer to roll all of their forecasting on a monthly basis. Before you do anything, first decide the duration of your forecasts (how long the forecast should be) and when a new period should be added.
Know Your Drivers
One of the biggest keys to success in rolling financial forecasting is that it is primarily driver based. So it’s very important to know those key business drivers, how to measure them and what to track before you begin.
The information in this post should provide you with some insights as to whether a rolling forecasting plan can work for your organization.
Whichever direction you choose to pursue, it’s important to find a system that will benefit your business by providing accurate information to help you make the right strategic decisions for the future.
Centage Corporation’s Planning Maestro is a cloud-native planning & analytics platform that delivers year-round financial intelligence. With Planning Maestro, Centage offers the sophisticated features needed by small and mid-market organizations to integrate budgeting, forecasting, and deep data analysis within one easy-to-use, scalable SaaS solution. For more information on how to modernize your office of finance with intelligent planning, view our product demonstration video, or call 800-366-5111.