Shortening Forecasting & Reporting Cycles: What it Is and Why it Matters

Business People Talking Discussing with coworker planning analyzing financial document data charts and graphs in Meeting and successful teamwork Concept.

Annie Duke, World Champion Poker Player and author of the National Bestseller “Thinking in Bets,” came up with an equation that can’t be any more correct: “The quality of our lives = the sum of decision quality (bets) + luck.”

Decision making has always been a critical focus for leaders. The quality and timeliness of decisions are under a spotlight, especially given the rapid speed the world has changed in the past 20 years, and the uncertainty change has brought.

The topics of data quality and data management tools and techniques are not new. It is often said, “garbage in, garbage out,” and it is well known that a good filter on data will improve decision making.

However, in finance, with all the principles, rules, regulations, and reporting requirements in place, the CFO focus tends to be more on timeliness than quality. Not that quality doesn’t matter, but cycle time is a more significant pain point.

It takes many companies over four months in an annual planning cycle and, on average, two or more weeks to close their books, analyze the numbers and report them every month.   

The cycle continues, and little is done to break it.

CFO attention is rapidly shifting back to 2 areas:

  1. Shortening the forecasting cycle
  2. Shortening the month-close and reporting cycle

These topics are not new.  Well renowned organizations such as the AICPA, APQC, and AFP have nicely covered the issues and shared best practices.  

We want to focus on the new skills that finance professionals need to learn, and how you can take advantage of a negative thing, such as a slowing business or disruptions due to COVID-19, to ramp up your teams’ skills and drive improvements in this area.

Tips and Considerations for Shortening Forecast and Reporting Cycles

How top performers shorten their budget or annual planning cycle

  1. Set up top-down targets instead of relying totally on a bottom-up approach
  2. A strategic planning process that drives the target setting
  3. Moved away from unnecessary levels of detail, reducing complexity
  4. Utilized technology to help integrate the process, improving transparency, and cross-function collaboration

Practices that help shorten your month-end closing and reporting cycle

  1. Redefine the elements of the closing cycle by eliminating non-value add activities and deferring some actions to the quarterly or annual financial close.
  2. Eliminate interim cycle focusing on the gross changes from month to month.
  3. Collapse the level of detail.
  4. Raise the materiality level in inter-company cross-country consolidations, and
  5. Separate and integrate systems, specifically the integration of the functions of the closing process.

Put abruptly like this, these best practices may sound like a lot, but, in reality, it all comes down to everyday practices and methods first put in place by software development and manufacturing companies, which then were adopted by the finance profession.

How the office of the CFO can adopt lean and agile methods

There is no doubt that with the advances in technology and the fast-changing and unpredictable environment in the business world, finance professionals and practitioners need to learn new skills, both soft and hard.

Lean should focus on identifying what adds value and what does not, in your process: identifying and eliminating waste, including waiting time, and creating a continuous and smooth flow to streamline your cycle time.

Agile, on the other hand, should be about adaptability and flexibility. Your process should be designed to be simple, adaptable to change, and flexible in accommodating changes.  After all, static budgets are becoming a thing of the past, and business planning is more like shooting a moving target. Things do change, and your budget should, too.

Both are very intuitive and not hard to learn skills, with much affordable good quality training available.  If you have idle time in your team, introduce them to these techniques; sooner or later, they will pay off.

Final Thoughts on Shortening Forecasting & Reporting Cycles

Last but not least, our consultants have helped many clients navigate through cycle time reduction projects. One thing we noticed that works perfectly in any change-intensive project: try to bring a neutral outsider to help lead the project.

Resistance to change is a real thing, and, with all the uncertainty around us, people will link, even if unjustified, with job losses. An expert outsider, together with a good change management communication plan, can ease the pressure and ensure project success. 

Need Budgeting & Forecasting Support?

The current business environment requires change. DLC’s dedicated team of consulting professionals is here to help you navigate this dynamic landscape from revamping your business strategy to executing essential finance and cash management initiatives.

Need some guidance? Let’s have a conversation.