As we all know (and are sometimes painfully reminded): not everyone is alike. There are many different personality types in the world. And there are also many different personality types in the budget process…not all of which are good for your budget process. We have identified seven different types of budget user personas that can destroy your process and have suggestions for how to deal with them.
The vast majority of these people and their types surface when organizations try to use Microsoft Excel for budgeting. These individuals highlight Excel’s limitations and their unique needs or issues.
Victim – The Victim is the person who just does not believe in or like the budget process. This is the person who complains that the system is too hard to use, does not allow him/her to budget the way he/she thinks about his/her department and generally whines about the process, the complexity, the lack of flexibility and anything else that comes to mind. Their inability to complete a budget is never their fault. It is always the fault of the system and/or process. Plus, throughout the fiscal year, they whine “that’s not my number”.
Procrastinator – This is the person who waits until the last minute at each iteration of the budget (if they submit at all) and generally gums up the works because you have to constantly wait for their submission. This delays the consolidation, reporting and the entire approval process as you are tracking down their spreadsheets and checking to see if they actually did what you needed them to do to complete the budget. They may always complain that they didn’t know the budget was due, they don’t have the time to fill in spreadsheets, the system didn’t allow them the flexibility to budget the way they wanted to – and on and on.
Tinkerer – The Tinkerer is the opposite of the Procrastinator. This is the person who submits version after version after version and causes (guess what?) version control issues as you try to determine which is his/her final, final version of the budget. This is also the person who, as the fiscal year unfolds, wants to update the budget based on the latest results. Hold this user accountable for their budget submission.
Mechanic – This is the person who constantly tries to alter your budget templates by adding rows, clobbering formulas and wreaking chaos on, what you hoped was a stable and consistent budget format. This is the person most likely for creating an error in the budget submission to the board.
Outlier – The Outlier is the person who constantly has special needs and wants to do things that are special to his/her department. This user needs maximum flexibility within the confines of financial controls.
Information Seeker – This person wants to constantly ask questions and provide details of what he/she is requesting as part of the budget process. This person asks for special reports and is constantly trying to communicate their specific needs in terms of justification and documentation.
Critic – This is the person who just does not like anything about the budget process and complains about everything from lack of documentation, the potential of errors, the time it takes to get the budget consolidated, to the lack of analysis and on and on. The critic can be especially difficult if it happens to also be a management person or specifically, your boss. Often this person wants the problem solved but does not want to spend a great deal of money to get it done.
These are not the only personas in the budget process, but they can be the most disruptive. Here are some common ways to deal with the above personas.
- Have a Turbo-Tax like interface for the budget process that walks the user through the required steps. This will satisfy most of the types above and eliminate complaints about lack of flexibility and lack of ease of use.
- Use the cloud. Cloud computing allows anyone with Internet access and a device with a browser to easily access the budget process. It eliminates the need for emailing spreadsheets and helps with the version control issues. Messages can be provided to users to help remind them when budgets are due and what strategy components to budget on.
- Incorporate situational budgeting. Situational budgeting provides maximum flexibility to end-users. This is particularly effective when combined with the Turbo-Tax-like interface. This lets users enter budget numbers and assumptions and calculations in a way that matches their individual needs.
- Have built-in workflow, audit trails and approval processes. This assists the version control and quality of budget issues and will dramatically cut down time wasted on questions about the numbers.
- Have structured and custom built reporting for both budget review and approval as well as variance reporting. Having a set of useful and predefined reports that support the budget preparation and approval and run against the budget database (as opposed to individual spreadsheets) can dramatically improve the overall process, reduce the budget cycle and help tie the budget to the strategy of the organization. Having the ability to customize required reports and analysis in a way that does not require either IT support or the learning of a foreign report writer can make both the budget process and the monthly variance process easier to deal with.
- Have specialized functionality for salary planning and asset planning. The two areas that can most impact the budget process are the issues of handling personnel planning (salaries, benefits, raises, incentive compensation, tax calculations) and asset planning (the fixed asset system understands run-off depreciation but has no idea what people are requesting for the next fiscal year). Budgeting for people by department and having an equipment catalog that users can choose from that will handle things like proper accounting for the asset, and keeping track of what was requested and approved by asset, department and time period are both invaluable functions.
- Use a database application. Having a single version of “the truth” is imperative. Plus a database application eliminates potential formula and other errors inherent in spreadsheets. This allows for users to see results from prior years without compromising the integrity of that information.
- Allow for notes, assumptions and justification on any number in the system. This will cut down the interactions with the Information Seeker and satisfy some of the needs of the Critics. It also helps the organization to prepare a budget that ties to the organization’s strategy.
- Provide a structured “what if?” Rather than having a general equation oriented modeling environment (that no one can and will use) having prepackaged and useful what if capabilities can reduce the stress at the end of the budget process when departments are trying to make important decisions about how to meet corporate expense objectives.
- Add forecasting. Having the ability to easily marry actual results in the new fiscal year with the budget, and then providing easy budget adjustments on top of that, can keep the budget fresh and the planning process more meaningful.
- Choose usability over functionality. At a time when people are accustomed to using well-designed applications from companies such as Google Inc. and Apple Inc. in their personal lives, they have little patience for workplace applications that leave them confused. Functionality is no longer the definition of success. Usability is key. The world of consumer software has become easy and simple to use and has trained users to expect that business software will follow a similar model. And if it doesn’t, people are much less patient than they were in the past.
- Don’t over-engineer. The most important criteria is to make sure that you don’t use a cannon to kill a mouse and you don’t get locked into a system that requires lots of support and money. If you seek an outside solution (recommended) make sure that all costs are identified early. Software vendors like to lure you with functionality and then spring the cost on you after you have made the emotional commitment. Be careful of that. Also, make sure that you completely understand the support requirements of an outside system.
So, in summary, it is not easy to deal with the personas that are hell-bent on destroying this mission-critical process. And you will never satisfy everyone. Nothing is perfect. But perfection is the enemy of the good. Implementing a better budget process in your organization can dramatically reduce the impact of the seven personas and improve the overall financial performance of your organization.
For more information, Click Here to view a recording of our recent webinar, where we explore The 7 User Personas of Budgeting and show you how to effectively address their unique needs AND eliminate their ability to destroy the budgeting process.