From the Ask Tom mailbag –
We are looking at our planning scenarios for next year, and one question we have is the value of creating a budget. Doesn’t it make more sense just to print comparative reports year over year rather than spend the time to create something new?
I always go back to purpose. What is the purpose for a budget? What are the questions we ask ourselves as we look forward to next year?
- What is our market? Size of market? (Facts or assumptions)
- What macroeconomic factors impact our market?
- How much of that market can we expect to earn with our product or service?
- Is our product or service something that can impact the market (materially) different than in the past, with a disruptive technology or delivery method? Or is it a product or service with a maintenance track that will substantially see similar volume to last year?
- Given our assumptions about our revenue levels, what is the appropriate cost structure to deliver our promises in the marketplace?
- Does that cost structure deliver the gross and net profit levels, appropriate to the risk, and within the return on (investment, assets) that we believe appropriate?
- Is there a disruptive (to our market) cost that we are willing to suffer that might dramatically impact our positive ability to sell or take marketshare? Like a warranty program or alternate delivery method, like air freight for a heavy product? I know it might be heavy, but the question of air freight might spark an idea.
I see budgeting as a bit of realism for our strategic decisions. The purpose of budgeting is to help us make those decisions. As a post-mortem, budgeting helps us check our assumptions (were they wrong or confirmed) and how well did we execute on the decisions we made.
When I am working on this process with a company, a quarterly shakedown on the questions (above) help us deal with reality and adjust (our assumptions, our efforts, our cost structure, our decisions). In a stable, incremental business model, year over year may be a satisfactory approach. Where the business model is seeing dramatic disruption, by economics, technology, largess competition, regulation or other factors, a zero-base approach may be appropriate.