During football season, you can often find me and my friends out tailgating for most of the day. Tailgating for us means smoking briskets. If you search the internet, you can find lots of tips and tricks on how to smoke a brisket, but a majority of the experts will tell you the main secret is to smoke it LONG and SLOW. For a 20 pound brisket, we typically like to cook it around 225 degrees (F) for 12-18 hours and ideally you keep the temperature within a few degrees of 225 the whole time. If you try to speed this up too much by cooking it at a high temperature, you will likely sacrifice some of the tenderness and flavor.

How does this relate to planning? Many of us who manage the Corporate Budgets at our various companies would love to try to make our budgeting and planning cycles faster, but just like BBQ, if you try to make it too fast, you might sacrifice some of the quality. Here are some additional lessons I have learned over the years, that may help you have a faster planning cycle.

1. You need software to support the size of your business

You can’t cook 5 briskets in the oven. You need a smoker that is large enough to easily support the amount of meat that you want to cook.

Microsoft Excel is a great tool. Sharepoint is a great tool. But these products are not scalable to support a mid-size business (or larger) in their budgeting and planning cycles.  Software such as IBM’s Planning Analytics, Workday’s Adaptive Insights, or Oracle’s PBCS is designed with features and scalability to support most businesses.

2. “Prime” the budget

To have a good brisket, I usually want to smoke it for at least 12 hours. There simply is not much getting around that time. Plus, those 12 hours do not include the prep work the day before. Good BBQ just takes time.

Just like in tailgating, there are things that you can do before your planning cycle begins that will help decrease the time that your users spend on the budget. My main recommendation here is to “prime” the budget. This basically means that we want to pre-populate the budget numbers with a starting point, usually this means we start with last year actuals and add a certain percentage. By doing this, your users can focus more on analyzing and adjusting the data, rather than keying in the data. There are downsides to priming your budget, which is why many companies choose to do a Zero-Based Budget, but that is a topic for another blog.

3. Incorporate your top-down budget as a reference point

To stick to a BBQ example, if you order a steak at a nice restaurant and don’t tell them how you want it cooked, there is a pretty good chance you might have to send it back or even worse it might be overdone and they have to start over with a new steak. Either way, it will likely take you twice as long to get the steak the way you want it.

Many companies do a top-down budget, in addition to the bottoms-up budgeting process. What we have found is that very few actually connect the two. One of the most common scenarios, in every industry, is once they complete the bottoms-up budget, the executives review it and immediately ask for various cuts across the board. Our recommendation is for the executive team to do a top-down budget before you even begin the planning cycle. Use those numbers as a reference for your end users. It is always good to have a target in mind before you start.

4. Make it clear how long your users will have to work on their budgets

When I smoke a brisket, I know that I have to keep it on for 12 hours. Depending upon the complexity of your business, you will need to make a decision on how long you want to leave your planning cycle open for your users. I have seen companies leave the planning models only open for 5 days. I have seen companies work on their budgets for 6 months. Experience tells me most users will usually procrastinate. Meaning if you give them 3 weeks, they will likely wait until the last week to begin working on their plan.

Here are some additional tips on getting your users engaged in the Planning cycle:

  • Be strategic. Know your business and your end users. Specifically, what days or weeks are busy times and try to schedule accordingly.
  • Offer users a webex or workshop refresher course on how to use your planning models.
  • Communicate dates very clearly. You should even plan to set up calendar reminders at various points leading up to the close of the Planning Model.

Faster does not always mean better

Every company wants a “faster” planning cycle, but in reality, the goal should probably be a more efficient planning cycle. If you simply take time away from your users, you will probably get less accuracy and more errors.  If you take steps such as reducing the amount of data your users must key in, and if you give them a target to start with – you can likely reduce the time it takes to complete your planning cycle AND improve the accuracy.

If you’re looking for a brisket recipe let me know! Or contact us if you want a recipe to improve your next planning cycle.