You might have heard the saying, ‘don’t boil the ocean.’ Or maybe ‘crawl, walk, run’ has made it to your ears instead.
The point of both sayings is that tasks can seem insurmountable when you approach them all at once. But if you take them step by step—learning to crawl before you can run—they can be a lot less overwhelming.
That’s advice that can be applied in all areas of life and business. But, in my opinion, it’s especially the case when you’re implementing corporate performance management (CPM) software.
A CPM solution can change the way your finance team works, introducing new efficiencies and insights into your finance operations and helping fuel your organizational goals as a whole. But a CPM software implementation is also a digital transformation project. And like all digital transformation projects, it requires a time and cost investment and, often, a cultural shift.
With that in mind, trying to ‘boil the ocean’—that is, approaching too many processes at once across your business planning, such as workforce planning, financial reporting, revenue planning, financial consolidation, budgeting and forecasting—can hinder the entire project from the start.
Beginning with just one use case, on the other hand, can get you off the ground faster—demonstrating immediate value to your users and executive team. It’s a way of working out any kinks in your implementation plan and getting your team used to the new technology gradually.
So, let’s take a deeper look at why starting small is a good way to approach your CPM software implementation. In this CPM implementation guide, we’ll explore when you should begin thinking about a corporate performance management solution, look at some of the challenges that can get in your way and examine how some of Vena’s customers approached their own implementations.
Before we look at the argument for starting small with CPM software, let’s consider why you should start at all. In other words, how do you know when it’s time to consider a CPM solution?
The answer isn’t simple. Every organization has its own timeline, and a different path towards a corporate performance management software implementation. But for many, the turning point comes during a time of change. For instance, when you’re unable to meet the demands of your organization's current growth trajectory.
Michael Mazuco, former Senior Financial Systems and Data Manager at Bayshore Health, discusses the evolution of CPM software during Vena's livestream, Unlocking Opportunities with Finance Systems and Operations.
When discussing how organizations’ needs for continuous and iterative planning have evolved, Michael Mazuco, former Senior Financial Systems and Data Manager with Bayshore Health said, “You can absolutely do it through Excel. But at some point when you grow over a certain size, it's no longer sustainable.”
He continued, during our Excelerate Summit 2023 livestream, Unlocking Opportunities with Finance Systems and Operations, “as a result, organizations have recognized the need to automate as they have grown and as they saw the need for automated ongoing planning.”
As you grow, after all, continuing to maintain your processes manually opens up more risk of human error—especially if you’re expecting your existing finance team to pick up the slack.
Many organizations introduce a CPM solution in order to scale their processes without the heightened manual work and error risk. In other cases, they may already be using a solution or legacy tool for key processes, but it’s overly rigid and doesn’t meet the breadth of their new needs.
“You're seeing the two classic areas, really, here. You're seeing the classic complexity level reached in Excel, which is the bit that normally pushes people over the edge,” Mark Cracknell, founder, Finance Utopia, a Vena partner, said during a meetup we hosted recently with customers and partners. “Then you are seeing the people who are using the old legacy solutions and have been using them for years. [But] they've lost the internal expertise, or the legacy system hasn't got the capability anymore.”
Waiting to implement a CPM solution just maintains a less-than-stellar status quo, increasing the potential for manual error and making other teams throughout your organization lose confidence in the results your finance team is generating.
Just take Rhodalyn Gabuat’s experience at transport and logistics company GB Railfreight as an example. “When I first started, we were quite a small company and we grew very quickly, but we still had quite manual ways of working,” the Business Systems Manager told us.
“Our budget just became a mess, collating lots of different spreadsheets from different sources. And there was one person responsible for collating all that information and she was just having a nightmare. We collated the budget and then no one had any confidence in our figures because it was such a rush.”
Since bringing in a corporate performance management platform, however, GB Railfreight was able to turn things around (we’ll find out more about exactly how they did that later).
Of course, bringing in any kind of change comes with its own set of challenges—and a CPM technology implementation is no different.
For your corporate performance management software implementation to be successful, it’s not unusual to have to overcome some obstacles first.
Four of the more common roadblocks we see as organizations start to take the steps towards CPM implementation include:
When you implement corporate performance management software, you’re often taking people away from something they’re comfortable with—and that they already know gets the job done (although not particularly efficiently).
And they’re busy—it’s often why you’re looking into a CPM solution in the first place—so the idea of learning something new may be daunting, even if the goal is to save them time in the long run.
“I think because you are trying to encourage more self-service from budget holders and, to some degree, that means they have to do a little bit more on their own and they'd have less hand holding, they probably don't want it in some ways,” Josh Weinberg, Head of Financial Operations for not-for-profit Citizens Advice told us.
“But I think particularly those who are more technologically inclined and those who want more real-time access to data will come around,” he continued.
Sometimes there’s a change management element and cultural shift that needs to happen to support your implementation and get everyone on board.
Getting your team on board is just one challenge—earning your executives’ approval isn’t always easy either. Given the budget and time commitment involved with implementing a CPM platform, there can be resistance from your executive team. They may not understand why the change is needed or understand the value a CPM solution will bring.
Getting one executive on board to champion the cause can help build momentum for the entire project. And a combination of transparency and a full understanding of the benefits a CPM solution can offer will help you get the support you need.
Highlighting the competitive value may also help, Michael from Bayshore Health added during Unlocking Opportunities with Finance Systems and Operations. “Part of today's competitive landscape is the ability to get to the relevant information faster than before,” he said.
Olivia MacDonald, former Senior Manager of FP&A at Vena, discusses during the livestream Unlocking Opportunities with Finance Systems and Operations how focusing your CPM implementation efforts on quick wins can help you gain trust and interest from executives, securing support for automating future use cases.
Trying to take on a CPM software implementation without dedicating resources can be a recipe for disaster. As with any significant digital transformation project, not having a specific team member appointed to lead the way means leaving the entire implementation open to failure. With nobody there to push it through, there’s a good chance it will go nowhere or you won’t be able to build momentum around the new technology, leaving it unused.
Appoint one person or team to manage the implementation project, introduce any process changes and measure the successes and failures of the initiative, making adjustments as needed.
They’ll help guide users of the new platform through training and answer any questions, keep track of costs and timelines and provide status reports to stakeholders.
And all of that, Mark from Finance Utopia shared, can be the difference between success and failure. “Looking back on the years, the [implementation] projects that are successful are those where they dedicate a resource,” he said. “I think that—[not dedicating a resource]—is always a big mistake from organizations.”
Ideally the resource you appoint will also be someone in-house rather than an outside team, he added. “You need those internal people with their skill set and knowledge of the business to really run that.”
We’ve all heard of the businesses that have invested heavily in a technology solution, going in strong from the outset—only to hit a major setback or find out it’s not the right system for them. Going back to the drawing board at that point wastes a lot of time and money.
But that’s only one of the reasons why implementing a software solution like a CPM tool too fast can be problematic.
After all, CPM software isn’t just a technology investment—as we’ve already seen, it’s also a culture shift. Your team needs time to get used to new processes and ways of doing things. Trying to do everything at once may overwhelm them and breed resentments for the changes underway. And that makes it harder to integrate new technology into your finance operations.
Change management should be a critical part of the CPM implementation process, as should a progressive strategy for your implementation.
There should be opportunities to evaluate what’s working and what’s not along the way, allowing stakeholders to voice their ideas and concerns. Making sure you have a well-defined mission statement and strong KPIs from the outset will also help you focus the implementation process, says Howard Dresner, Chief Research Officer at Dresner Advisory Services.
It’s also why starting small—with a single use case—helps drive a successful CPM implementation.
In fact, starting small can help you overcome all the challenges we’ve described above.
Starting with a single use case requires fewer resources and lets you begin to unlock value immediately, establishing quick and early wins that will help you demonstrate what your CPM software is capable of to both your team and executive leadership.
Rob Sparrowhawk, Senior Director of Professional Services EMEA at Vena, discusses the value of taking an iterative approach to implementing CPM software to demonstrate value as quickly as possible during Vena's Excelerate London 2023 session, Best Practices for CPM Software Implementations.
You can then start to roll out your CPM usage to other use cases, progressively adding value and celebrating your wins along the way.
“It’s really important that when you’re building something, you want to build for the future,” Olivia MacDonald, Vena’s former Senior Manager of FP&A, said during the Unlocking Opportunities with Finance Systems and Operations livestream. “Starting with a strong foundation is really key.”
This approach can also help you build up change adoption and acceptance slowly as you integrate the new solution into your organizational culture. The learning curve will also feel more manageable for users, as you build a solid testbed, acclimatizing them to the solution and building up their confidence while establishing continued executive support.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s see what Vena’s customers had to say about why this approach works:
GB Railfreight began their CPM software implementation by replacing their manual profit-and-loss reporting process—previously a pain point for their team. By focusing on one area that was causing significant headaches, they found that their team was quickly able to understand the value of the solution they were introducing, Rhodalyn shared.
“The person collating [the budget] was really happy for the change,” she said. “We started our project in August and we finished the budget by November.”
By starting with that single project, they were able to gain value quickly and move on to the next use case with support already established. “As soon as that was finished, we moved on next to CapEx planning. [We] moved on to the next bit quite quickly,” Rhodalyn added.
Starting small worked for Citizens Advice, as well. Josh said that by introducing CPM software for their workforce planning first, they were able to ease their team into the new technology.
“We were able to set up the bespoke workforce planning piece as part of the initial implementation,” Josh said. “Thankfully, I think in part because we had a good spreadsheet that managed all this.”
After rolling out their CPM solution in this one area, Citizens Advice was able to show their team exactly how things could be done and the value it could offer.
“They didn't know what they didn't know,” he explained of their team. “They didn't know that they could manage their staffing plan outside of spreadsheets. We could put that in a more robust mechanism and get [them] more visibility.”
Both GB Railfreight and Citizens Advice started their CPM software implementation journey with different use cases—taking their own unique paths to the starting-small approach.
But what about you—how do you prioritize where to start your own implementation?
I typically tell organizations to start with conversations with end users—your finance team, controllers, budget managers and other stakeholders—and a review of your business goals. Use those insights to come up with a list of a few potential use cases you want to focus on early in your implementation process. Then ask these three questions:
What are your team’s biggest pain points? What CPM use case will have the biggest initial impact? Maybe there’s an area where users are wasting too much time every month on manual tasks, for example, like the GB Railfreight team was with their P&L report.
By prioritizing the areas that are most challenging to your team, you’re demonstrating the value of your CPM solution to them right out the gate—while freeing up their time to help build momentum for the next area of implementation.
Your team is learning a new technology. They’re getting used to the nuances of a new platform and potentially going through some trial and error along the way. You may have an executive sponsor that’s put their neck on the line, as well, backing up the project—and you don’t want to leave them out on a limb.
Starting with the least complicated use case, then, can earn you a win quickly and with little difficulty. This shows your executive sponsor that their support was warranted, while also giving your team a chance to get to know the solution at the same time.
Citizens Advice took this approach with their workforce planning use case, which was already established in spreadsheet form—showing the value of their CPM solution early.
On a similar note, by focusing on a project that’s going to get done the quickest, you’re able to clock a win for your team early on. This may be the use case that’s the easiest, or it may be a smaller project that is still value-adding.
The point is, this will demonstrate the value of your investment fast, both to your executives and the rest of the organization—putting you on a path for ongoing success early.
And of course, starting with the right CPM software will help the entire project along.
When it comes to evaluating CPM software, there are a few questions you can ask as you consider their financial, operational and technical suitability for your organization:
A complete planning software like Vena, for instance, will help your business easily scale its CPM use cases, allowing you to add complexities as your needs grow.
Vena helps teams automate a breadth of processes, from core FP&A processes like budgeting, forecasting and workplace planning, to other areas of finance and operations, including sales planning and financial close management.
And Vena’s native Excel approach also means users can pick it up quickly and generate value right away—taking the Excel spreadsheets you’ve already built and mapping them to a centralized database.
“Vena was always the front runner and it was the one we went with,” Josh from Citizens Advice said.
Because of Vena's native Excel approach, Citizens Advice easily mapped their existing workforce planning spreadsheet to the Vena database. In doing so, they were able to implement Vena in a short amount of time, at a third of the cost of their previous system.
As for GB Railfreight, Vena allowed them to bring in new functionality that helped free time away from manual processes and add to the strategic value their finance team could offer the organization.
“We do our budgeting bottom-up, but before Vena we could never do a forecast,” Rhodalyn said. “It was always the financial controller doing the forecast because it was too much work for everyone. And now, since we introduced Vena, we're planning our workforce, we're planning our overtime and we want to do what-if planning. There's just a long line of people that want to do more and [now] we've got some time.”
A corporate performance management software solution can have real value within your organization. “It elevates the finance function to being a better respected and trusted business partner,” Josh from Citizens United pointed out, and that’s a truth we’ve seen across the organizations we work with.
But to unlock CPM’s ultimate value you first have to get your team and the rest of your organization on board. That means overcoming the challenges getting in the way of your CPM software implementation—and choosing a platform that will empower your goals.
Starting small helps accomplish that. And Vena’s complete planning solution can take you the rest of the way.
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Steven Lockwood is an experienced technologist and business specialist with over twenty years of experience advising businesses on enterprise technology for the office of finance and beyond. Steven's expertise has been instrumental in helping countless businesses streamline their enterprise technology, leading to improved efficiency and cost savings. As Vice President, Sales - U.K. & Ireland at Vena, Steven leads the go-to-market strategy and execution of the business.