Reinventing FP&A: Telling the story

Posted by  Michael Coveney

In this series of blogs we are looking at the changes that need to occur within FP&A departments in order to cope with the impact of today’s analytic technologies.  This blog describes the last 2 new key roles within FP&A departments - The Storyteller and The Influencer.

Any story, no matter how good the plot may be, has to be told in a way that will captivate its audience. If it fails to do so then the reader will get bored and stop reading, believing that the rest of the narrative as being worthless.  Right from the start the reader needs to be engaged; to be sympathetic with the characters; and as the plot develops, be aware of dangers and opportunities.  Finally, when the conclusion is reached, the journey that they have come through the text should make sense.

And that’s the way it should be when presenting reports and analyses.  They are, or should be, telling a story, supported by information presented in context, so that a conclusion can be fully formed and easy to understand. 

There should be no questions left unanswered.

To do this takes skill.  You can’t just bundle up a lot of reports and expect the reader to spot the trends and come to the right conclusion.  They need to be led, where the analyses presented support an overall theme, and where any decisions that need to be made are fully supported.  This role is what we have called The Storyteller.

The Storyteller

The Storyteller role involves presenting analyses in a way in that its readers can understand and, if required, are able to take decisive action.  Each book of reports needs to have an overall purpose which can be summarised in the executive overview (or dashboard if viewing on-line) with the backup pages each providing a different focus that builds to the main conclusion(s).  In line with today’s modern analytic systems, readers should be allowed to drill to underlying detail if required.

If a particular report is adding no value, then consider getting rid of it as it will only distract from the main ‘plot’. 

Most readers have a limited time/attention span so it’s important to be clear what the report shows and why it is important to the overall theme.

Report layouts, colouring and presentation methods need to be consistent, unbiased and appropriate for the person the report is aimed at.  In recent years there have been efforts made on developing standards for report presentation.  In this blog we don’t have time to go into this but it’s a topic that is worth investigating.  One such standard worth looking at is the International Business Communication Standards (IBCS) that have the following seven rules:

  • Every report and presentation should convey a message
  • Things that mean the same should look the same
  • All information necessary to understanding the content should be included on one page
  • Reports should avoid improper scaling, manipulated representations and misleading visuals
  • Charts and tables should convey the desired message as intuitively as possible
  • All redundant, distracting, or merely decorative components should be avoided
  • Corresponding elements should be consistent and exhaustive without any overlap

FP&A Influencer

So far in these blogs we have looked at 3 distinct new roles within FP&A - the Architect responsible for building planning and analytic models; the Analyst who delves into the detail to uncover hidden trends and relationships; and the Storyteller mentioned above.   That leaves one final role - the Influencer.

In his book on how to succeed in F1 motor racing, team principal Adam Parr mentions that strategy has three perspectives: political, technical and financial.  He goes on to say that battles can be won in any of these perspectives, but wars are won when all three are in focus.

For FP&A departments to make a real impact they must be in a position of real influence when it comes to making strategic decisions.  You may have noticed that the roles of architect, analyst and storyteller deal with facts that typically affect either the technical or financial perspective.  The role of the Influencer is to consider all 3 and ensure that the story coming from FP&A is either acceptable to, or seeks to deal with, the political situation in a sensitive way.

To this end the Influencer must try and stay neutral.  They must be a ‘trusted’ advisor based on what the data reveals and above all, support senior executives in helping them in making decisions.  The ideal candidate is probably the most senior person in FP&A as they are the ones who direct the organisation’s planning and analysis activities.

Michael Coveney

Michael Coveney spent 40+ years in the software analytic business with a focus on transforming the planning, budgeting, forecasting and reporting processes. He has considerable experience in the design and implementation of Business Analytic systems with major organisations throughout the world. He is a gifted conference speaker and author where his latest book ‘Budgeting, Forecasting and Planning In Uncertain Times’is published by J Wiley. His articles have also appeared on www.fpa-trends.com, that encourages innovation in FP&A departments.