The death of the annual plan: planning in an uncertain world

The death of the annual plan: planning in an uncertain world

Over the last 18-months, we’ve seen the complexity of disruptions and the pace of change make even the most well-thought-out business plans irrelevant in a matter of hours. The pandemic has taught us that our approach to planning needs to change. Relying on historical data alone or planning once a year or even once a quarter will no longer suffice. The annual plan has died an overdue death, and with the new year nearly upon us, business leaders must embrace this change today to help their companies become more agile and resilient in the future.

From siloed planning to true connection 

Most companies aspire today to some sort of rolling forecast that is reviewed quarterly or monthly. However, all too often these forecasts are created by finance teams who must manually consolidate data from hundreds of Excel files or point solutions across multiple departments within the organisation. Beyond requiring extensive time and effort, this immensely cumbersome approach creates tremendous frailty in the process ‘ opening many opportunities for serious error. As a result, forecasts are typically held back in a slow and painful cadence, weighed down by layers of control, checking and compliance and losing any level of agility and speed to insight.

What’s more, building an agile planning process within a department is not the only challenge facing business leadership. Core business processes are cross functional, and a modern planning system must reflect this. Imagine if your finance team could be aligned with sales and supply chain managers in real-time. Production timelines could help inform more strategic revenue forecasts. Demand projections could be leveraged to build more equitable quota plans and territories for sales reps. And finance could have a real-time view of any changes to targets or costs that might impact company results. 

With this approach, planning can become a living, connected operation where if one piece of the puzzle moves, everything else changes and adapts in real time too. This would help accelerate expertise across the company, eliminate planning silos, and allow the business to move at the speed of opportunity ‘ which is critical in today’s dynamic market. 

Forecasting for uncertainty 

Beyond automating data collection and breaking down planning silos, the real prize of agile, integrated planning is building resilience. The very essence of planning is forecasting and preparing the business for changes in every possible aspect. Being able to cope with any market forces in an agile and real time way means you’re not just surviving but thriving as a business. 

But how can you forecast for the future when there’s so much uncertainty? Predictive analytics and intelligence capabilities are key elements here. By combining company data with external market signals and third-party insights, businesses can contextualise how their company is doing right now and anticipate potential points of failure within their operations. Plus, with intelligence capabilities like machine learning, businesses can create more accurate forecasts and quickly gauge the impact of potential disruptions, like weather events, on their plans. 

Transform disruption into opportunity  

There’s no question that business success is directly tied to adaptability and resilience ‘ but business leaders need to change their mindset if they are to achieve this. First and foremost, leaders must say goodbye to the traditional annual plan and embrace more real-time planning capabilities. Once this shift is complete, technology and data can help break down planning silos, making it easier for businesses to not only respond to volatility, but spot new opportunities, plan for a variety of scenarios, and make more strategic, predictive decisions about the future. 

Chris Baker
Chris Baker

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