The Business Case: Spreadsheets To Performance Management

The process of identifying an opportunity for change through to implementation is not a linear one, rather a cycle during which you will periodically repeat on yourself to re-qualify certain aspects of a project plan.

We’re finding increasing numbers of prospective clients engaging a partner at the earliest step of that journey. An opportunity has been identified but there is minimal, if any analysis of the opportunity, no selection criteria, no mission statement, and someone needs to sign the cheque.

Like it or not, spreadsheets remain a virtually cost free tool-set, resourcing aside, so the justification for capital expenditure needs to be a strong one.

The ROI of a performance management tool vs. offline spreadsheet models will be evident to the business stakeholder of change; elimination of spreadsheet errors, rapid response times, collaboration, faster reaction to business changes, greater insight into performance management. We get it, but the powers that be will require more. Your business case will need to be fully considered, well focused, resilient, practical and cost-effective.

Stage 1 – Analysis of Opportunity:

You have identified an opportunity to improve your current processes. Document a formal analysis of your strengths and weaknesses, and of the opportunities and threats that you face. Look a little deeper into the risk factor. This helps you to spot process risks, weaknesses in your organization, and identify the risks to which you are currently exposed.

From this you can plan to neutralise those risks through migration. Do you have the ability to produce a rolling forecast? What’s stopping you? Does that have a negative effect on the organisation? Keep it simple but get it down on paper.

Stage 2 – Identify the aim of your Plan:

The next step is to decide precisely what the aim of your plan is in the form of a Vision/Mission statement. Deciding and defining an aim sharpens the focus of your plan, and helps you to avoid wasting effort on irrelevant side issues.

Vision Statement: To have 100% confidence in the information we are deploying for business critical decision-making. To make the right information available in the hands of the right people, and to have the informative resource to respond fast enough to changing forecasts and budgets.

The mission statement gives concrete expression to the Vision statement, explaining how it is to be achieved. Again, keep it simple. Budget, Rolling Forecast, Scenario Planning, 3YP, rolling Actual updates – by Week, by Company, Product Category, Channel.

Stage 3 – Exploring the Options / Selecting the Best Option:

By now, you should have a clear objective so go out and explore the options. That may come as a surprise to hear me say but trust me, if the use case is on point the cream will naturally rise to the top.

Some of you may have heard us to discuss and offer a free ‘Proof of Concept’. This is something you won’t often see from other vendors, an opportunity to have complete exposure to the product prior to any commitment – warts and all. Sample your live data, dimensions & formulae.

Be mindful of pretty features like dashboarding, KPI’s, etc. Although key features of any EPM tool, they should not deflect focus from the aim of the plan. Remember, what problems are we really trying to solve: Drill-down, pivot-ability, integration, scalability, agile planning, self-service analytics, etc.

Stage 4 – Project Planning:

By the time you start detailed planning, you should have a good picture of where you are, what you want to achieve and the options available to you. You may have selected one option as the most likely to yield results.

Detailed planning is the process of working out the most efficient and effective way of achieving the aim you have pre-defined. It is the process of determining who will do what, when, where, how and why, and at what cost.

Focus on Gantt Charts or Critical Path Analysis techniques when working out priorities, deadlines and the allocation of resources. While you are concentrating on the actions that need to be performed, ensure that you also think about the control mechanisms to monitor performance, toll gates, etc. These will include activities like reporting, quality assurance, cost control, etc. that are needed to spot and correct any deviations from the plan.

A standard development plan will focus around: Project Scope & Initiation, User Requirement Analysis, Design, Build, Testing, Deployment & Stabilisation.

Stage 5 – Evaluation of the Plan and its Impact:

You have iteratively evaluated the plan to make sure it will be a worthwhile venture so it’s now decision time. Be sure to have sufficient factual back-up: Cost/Benefit analysis, Plus/Minus/Interesting chart, Force Field analysis.

In the majority of cases you will have a good idea of the final outcome, in others perhaps not and if holes are to be picked in the proposal then simply return to an earlier stage and either improve the plan or make a different one.

Start SMALL, start SLOW, start SMART. Offer confidence and prove the concept by focusing on early and often wins.

Look to win over the hearts and minds of key business stakeholders and empower your internal workforce, after all they will underpin the success of any migration by not returning to the spreadsheet at the first sign of trouble.

A business analyst should not spend the majority of his/her time collecting or churning data rather analysing the data to improve the performance of the business; Performance Management!!

Better Data = Better Decisions = Better Performance. Everyone wins.