Data Driven Financial Management for Project-Businesses

Posted by Amy Champigny on June 20, 2018

Financial Graph

Think Your Firm is Data Driven?

An introduction to data driven financials and best practices to help you get started.

By Amy Champigny

It is not enough to simply say that your organization is ‘data-driven,’ you need to prove it with an innovative approach to data analysis in order to discover the actionable insights your organization needs to create effective growth strategies. That’s where harnessing the power of information can help your organization truly become data-driven. In this two part blog on data-driven financials we’ll focus first on ways to integrate data and analysis into your strategic planning and benchmarking activities and then, in part two, on specific key performance indicators to help you understand how well your organization is executing those plans.

According to the SPI 2018 Benchmark Survey, effective planning draws on the collective intelligence and vision of the firm. Top performers have mastered this process by converting the decision-making process from a tactical activity to a strategic one. Most of us struggle to free ourselves from the cycle of reactivity while proactive planning remains a dream not yet realized. So, how do you get from point A (reactive) to point B (proactive)? Really, it’s all about alignment. Planning and budgeting offers an ongoing opportunity to align siloed areas in the firm to ensure that strategic targets for different operating units are in sync with the overarching growth plan of the organization.

Read the 2018 Professional Services Maturity Benchmark Report

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Here are three places to start if you want to steer your organization toward truly data driven financials:

#1 Connect the Dots with Strategic Planning

Strategic planning should not be represented by an annual checkbox which results in a plan that sits on the shelf for the following ten or eleven months. We’ve all been places where budgeting and planning was treated as a half-hearted exercise that produced no real targets or KPIs. Planning and budgeting hits at a busy time of year for most companies and is often seen as extra work. Firstly, you need to encourage your entire organization to adopt a Growth Mindset. It is by understanding that the pillars of planning are hard work, effective strategy, and input from others that your organization will start to adopt a culture of continuous improvement.

The SPI 2018 Benchmark Survey suggests that organizations should spend time re-energizing their vision on a regular basis. This process should include a systematic post-mortem of what worked or failed from prior plans. Devote time connecting the dots from the prior year and understand the data from the previous year. Why did that plan fail? Was it because there was a key shift environmental shift in the industry or was it because you based a strategic initiative on someone’s gut rather than on hard facts?

#2 Transform your Project Business by Automating Budgeting and Forecasting

If you want the most accurate and reliable picture of your business today, then it’s time to think about technology as an enabler. I know from experience that the budgeting process can be riddled with pitfalls. Relying on spreadsheets and complicated formulas in Excel leads to your CFO spending hours upon hours painstakingly reviewing every cell, every input and every conclusion. I’ve done it and I may have even nodded off while doing it. There is a better way.

Spreadsheets and paper are not agile enough to keep up with fast moving professional services firms. Embracing automated budgeting and forecasting can move your organization forward in ways you haven’t even imagined yet. Remove guesswork and get through the budgeting process faster with more reliable results, then report on, and respond to, the data in real time. According to the research, 57% of organizations are getting access to the key data and reports they need too slowly. The process needs to be blown up and transformed to reflect the real-time way professional services firms conduct business.

#3 Consumable Data for Project-Driven Firms

No everyone in your organization is a data geek. Believe it or not, some people find data more effective than a sleep aid. Complicated spreadsheets need to be turned into more easily consumable visual representations that can help facilitate data-driven conversations between all members of your core planning team.

Do not underestimate the power of charts, diagrams, and visuals when you’re talking about data. Outside the finance department, straight numbers can lose their impact. Have you ever tried to present a really compelling argument, but lost the audience in the detail? A visual representation will almost always more clearly demonstrate your points and lead to a more productive and engaged conversation.

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Next time, we’ll dive into specific Key Performance Indicators. Compare how your PSO measures up against the best of the best and use what you’ve learned about data driven financial discipline to set targets and measure performance.