Mastering FP&A Planning and Reporting Basics: Stage 1 of Strategic Finance Maturity

Stratify Team

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A haphazard reporting and planning process might be the biggest source of frustration for finance professionals. The miscommunication, delays, and surprises along the way are taking way too much of your time and energy! Whether you’ve inherited a messy process, or you’re starting one from the ground up, you need to build a solid foundation. 

When you streamline your reporting and planning, the whole business will benefit from the consistency and valuable insights that your finance team will be able to provide. Effective, strategic FP&A starts with the basics. 

To find your starting point, let’s dive into the fundamentals of financial reporting and planning. 

We’ll cover: 

  • Your top three goals to establish a regular rhythm of reporting and planning.
  • Assessment questions to identify areas for growth. 
  • 5 key areas for your finance team to become more strategic and start to deliver exponential FP&A impact to the business.  

What Are Basic Planning and Reporting Goals?

  1. Produce an annual budget for the business that takes interdependent department plans into consideration, and delivers the plan in time for presentation to your board of directors.

    Strategic value:
    The annual plan provides an agreed-upon framework to approve and justify all spending decisions, and tie these to business outcome.
  1. Create a Budget vs Actual report on a monthly basis, by the 10th or 15th of each month. 

    Strategic value:
    A monthly BvA helps you and your stakeholders monitor and analyze the execution of the plan. 
  1. Produce a forecast on a cadence that makes sense for your organization.

    Strategic value:
    A forecast provides relevant insight and look-ahead guidance to the executive team and department leaders, helping to inform decisions. 

These goals are attainable when your people, processes, and systems work together to establish baseline reporting and planning activities. With this routine in place, you’ll see a drastic decrease in time spent on manual tasks and a drastic increase in alignment between your finance team and the rest of the business. 

Imagine a month where 70% of your time goes to analysis and strategic stakeholder communication, instead of 70% tedious data aggregation and report creation. So, what’s your next step toward that future? 

Find Your Starting Point  

It’s time to evaluate your current processes and habits to see what’s working well, and what you should focus on next. Ask these questions to assess your current grasp of the basics: 

  • Do you get regular input from other stakeholders on your financial plans for the year? 
  • Does your business produce an annual budget in a timely manner? 
  • Is your plan developed in a hub & spoke model with a single source of truth that allows everyone to operate against the same set of data? 
  • Do you have timely access and the ability to synthesize data from the business’ ERP and HRIS tools to compare against your budget? 
  • Are your spending decisions clearly linked to operational business goals? 

If you answered ‘no’ to some of these questions, then you’ve found your starting point! 

5 Areas to Apply Strategic Finance Principles

The categories below are five essential elements of a strategic FP&A function. We would bet that you and your team already have processes and systems running in each area, but how well are they functioning? 

Here are practical ways to master the basics in each area:

  1. Data

At this stage, you may be working with a top-down budget set by the executive team and siloed data from each department. You’re tasked with reconciling data across all the different business tools – or hunting down inaccuracies! To meet your goals, you need access to your data in real time through a system or technology solution to reduce the time spent on manual finance work. 

What skillset do you and your team need as you lay this foundation?  
Modeling is a valuable skill, but it's also a complex process that monopolizes your team’s time. Spreadsheet-based planning is being eclipsed by software with highly configurable, cloud-based models that will ultimately free up analysts' time to become a better partner to the business. 

  1. Collaboration

As the finance leader, are you functionally separated from the rest of the business in terms of data visibility and collaboration? You cannot offer informed advice (based on operational + financial data) without strong stakeholder relationships

You need input from every department, so start making connections and getting buy-in from each department leader on the budget timeline. Make it your goal to gain a first-hand understanding of the priorities and challenges for each business unit. 

  1. Agility

Stay laser-focused on producing the annual budget in a timely manner. Search for ways to automate your data processes as much as possible, so you can quickly synthesize data, provide new models, and share advice on short notice. This gives you more breathing space to work on your partnerships and gain perspective on other business activities. 

  1. Frequency of Reporting & Forecasting

In your current stage, you may be reporting on an infrequent basis, with limited ability to produce a new planning scenario or forecast on short notice. To move onto the next stage, you need to settle into the right reporting and forecasting cadence for your business, responsive to business changes, industry and market trends, and events. 

  1. Technology

An FP&A platform automates manual data processes, giving you time to focus on improving timeliness, frequency, and partnerships. These tools can help you move from the typical 1-2 week reporting time to 2 days!  

A strategic finance function will engage in revenue planning and/or reporting using operational metrics. That is a great goal to work toward after you’ve mastered the basics. Look for a technology solution that can grow with you. 

Continue Your Strategic Finance Journey

We hope this dive into the essentials of reporting and planning gave you confidence and at least one idea you can implement starting today. Better outcomes are possible if your FP&A team applies strategic finance principles to everything you do. You’ll see greater agility and collaborative planning take root in your company culture, and your team will become the financial heart of the business

Mastering the basics is the first step toward strategic finance maturity. In fact, it’s the focus of ‘Stage One’ in our eBook, The CFO’s Guide to Scaling Strategic Finance. 

This is a comprehensive guide that outlines three stages of FP&A maturity with specific goals, benchmarks, and tips unique to each stage. It’s designed to give finance leaders the top areas they can focus on no matter where they are in their journey to become a more strategic finance team. 

If you’re looking for even more support, tips, and insight into the process, download your copy today

Last Updated:
January 26, 2024

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