Part 11 in the Dynamic Planning Seriesoriginally appearing in the SAP Digitalist magazine.

A question I get all the time when working with financial planning and analysis (FP&A) professionals around the world is, “Should we plan annually?” As a simple person, I have a simple answer: “No.” We live in a fast-changing world, and that pace of change is only going to increase. I have yet to meet anyone in business who believes that the rate and magnitude of change is going to decrease. At the same time, we need to be able to set realistic goals and targets for our organizations. These two forces can be at odds with each other. How can organizations plan effectively when their environment is constantly changing?

One of the problems with annual planning is that it’s often the genesis of poor decisions. Most organizations dedicate a significant portion of their fiscal fourth quarter to determining where they want to be at year’s end and how they are going to get there. The great flaw in this strategy is that it inherently discourages investments in time, money, and resources that have a payout greater than the next 12 months.

Short-Term Thinking at the Expense of Long-Term Goals

With this artificial constraint, organizations will shy away from activities that aren’t focused on “hitting the number” or that don’t help achieve it. Even when the business cycle of the organization is longer than one year, decisions can be made that aren’t in its best longer-term interest, just to satisfy the short-term result and return structure. It is simply human nature to behave in such a manner, and is often a consequence of compensation plans that reward short-term targets at the expense of long-term goals.

Another challenge with planning on an annual basis is that organizations often fail to anticipate disaster. Since you are managing to an artificial end date, the longer into the cycle you go, the less time you leave yourself to maneuver when change occurs (and it will occur). That’s pushing all the risk to the latter part of the year and hoping nothing goes wrong. The real conundrum here is that if you are wrong about anything in the annual plan, it’s probably too late to fix it – or fix it inexpensively. You can make adjustments, but at an unnecessarily high cost.

Missed Opportunities to Identify Business Drivers

Another weakness of the annual planning process (APP) is that it can make it harder for an organization to identify cause and effect. Again, given that many of the activities have return periods of greater than 12 months, organizations weaken the link between smart business activities and achieving long-term goals. By focusing on activities that will have payouts within the year, it makes it more difficult to understand the true drivers of the organization.

And an APP can weaken the value of your benchmarks. By definition, you need to finish the year first to understand performance against any past benchmarks. This approach makes it harder to understand how you are performing against your competitors in the first quarter, or whether the second and third quarters look the way you expect. End-of-year becomes your single data point.

This is truly the opposite of dynamic planning. When you limit the opportunity to understand what’s happening in the moment, you limit the opportunity to react to a changing environment – and that can be the genesis of poor decisions that put you at a strategic disadvantage.

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This blog originally appeared in the SAP D!gitalist magazine and has been republished with permission.