With great power comes great responsibility. Even with a great finance team to support you, managing your budget can be a real pain. Here are a few things you can do to succeed:
Aim small, miss small
The most important step to hitting your budget is coming up with a detailed plan. Be precise and limit assumptions. Take time to work with your team and anticipate everyone's needs. Bringing your team along will create shared accountability.
It's easy to misjudge resourcing needs, misprice purchases, or overestimate productivity needed to achieve your objectives. Reach out to peers and learn how they think about budget allocation. For some departments like Customer Support this may be a quantitative exercise depending on Sales. For others, like engineering, it may be projection resourcing, staffing ratios, and estimating tools and service needs.
Don't use fuzzy math and avoid making assumptions about productivity or capacity improvements without testing. You put your plan at risk and may end up with too much stress on your team.
Your scorecard will come every month in the form of a Budget vs. Actual (BvA) analysis. The problem is your scorecard typically comes in 1-2 weeks after the month is finished meaning you're already half-way through your next budget period. The delay is due to Finance teams needing to close and review your businesses financial statements. To stay ahead, track key purchases with your team in a shared spreadsheet. Don't track data and information in your email. It's a mess to find things and key information isn't available to you. For many teams, you'll want to track spend closely for key initiatives regardless, especially in Marketing.
For purchasing where there's an ongoing commitment (like a consulting project or software subscription), track key milestones and make sure your team sets reminders to audit the vendor's performance or cancel before key billing or contract renewal milestones.
Run the process, don’t let the process run you
Like most things in life, success comes with discipline. This is especially true for financial performance, personal or in business. Treat Finance Management like a key business process. Put together a system for tracking information, collaboration, and updates. Once you have a plan in place, make sure you have a reliable process to execute against your plan. Set expectations with your team on how and when hiring requests, purchase requests, and project requests are handled.
A good finance team can be magical in setting up good financial operations, but that's not always the case. In any event, make sure your partners in Finance at least work on your most important financial decisions and provide you with timely analysis on your key questions.