Billy Russel

Billy Russel - FP&A Strategist

January 2023 - min to read

xP&A: finding a competitive edge through extended planning & analysis

xP&A: finding a competitive edge through extended planning & analysis

You're familiar with FP&A.

Financial planning and analysis. The bread-and-butter of any strategic finance department.

But there's a new term you might be less familiar with: 

xP&A, or extended planning and analysis.

...so what's the difference?

And should you bother with xP&A?

How do you do it?

Keep reading. 

Contents

  1. What is xP&A (extended planning and analysis)?
  2. How is xP&A different from other types of financial planning?
  3. Why choose extended enterprise planning?
  4. Benefits of xP&A
  5. Drawbacks of xP&A
  6. Planning processes
  7. xP&A top tips
  8. Conclusion: the verdict on xP&A

What is xP&A (extended planning and analysis)?

xP&A is an evolution of traditional financial planning models which look at financial data and metrics to make forecasts.

It's a rolling model that must be regularly updated with high-quality data.

Think of it as a person's health rather than a company's.

Regular FP&A is like watching only the calories (numbers) in and calories out.

But xP&A measures and improves muscle mass, bone density, mental health, cardiovascular endurance, and sleep quality.

So it's a more holistic approach.

In other words:

Extended planning and analysis (xP&A) looks at financial and non-financial data to determine a company's financial health and future.

That data could include employee retention, operations, and outside market trends. Anything that gives a more complete picture of the entire business.

How does xP&A differ from other types of financial planning?

Extended planning has a much broader scope than other models.

To work to its full potential, it needs 3 things:

  1. Collaboration outside the finance department,
  2. Advanced analytics, and
  3. Continuous, accurate data

When it works, it’s an impressive model that many in the finance domain call the future.

Now you might be thinking...

"Sounds like a headache."

And you're not entirely wrong. Especially if you're playing on hard mode

But the results of properly executed xP&A can be far more potent than traditional financial planning.

Adding non-financial data and metrics into the mix unlocks new insights that transform financial decision-making.

...how do you get that non-financial data into your Excel models?

Easy. Cube.

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Financial planning

Most CFOs and finance teams recognize the budgets, forecasts, and revenue figures needed for financial planning.

They know how to generate a snapshot of how the company is doing now and how it might look in the future.

xP&A takes this a few steps further and uses operational data to create a holistic view of the organization. This then determines what big financial decisions should be made in the future.

Here's an example:

A manufacturing company could look at its production schedule, maintenance costs, and warehouse lease.

Or a consulting firm might use client feedback, employee turnover rates, and hours billed.

Overall, companies then turn those insights into stronger operational plans and ultimately better business plans.

...if you're thinking, "yeah, we already do that," then congrats! You're doing xP&A already.

Enterprise planning

Long-term goals, strategies, and resource management all fall under the remit of enterprise planning.

It’s a high-level overview of the entire company that defines and executes plans to grow the business.

Extended planning can feed into enterprise planning, also known as business planning, in several ways.

A holistic view of data sets gives a much more complete picture of a company's potential. This can help CEOs and founders to set big goals that aren't unsustainable.

Why should business leaders choose extended enterprise planning?

Extended planning is a natural choice for founders and CEOs that want to know everything going on in their company where financials could be involved.

It can increase collaboration between teams, create an agile business, and foster a culture of transparency.

Each company has a product or service to provide. Extended planning pulls in previously untouched data sources that can give a far more comprehensive view of what customers are looking for, enjoying, and giving feedback on.

This gives business leaders a better idea of their customers' needs and wants.

Not to mention that it can inform operational areas of their own risks and inefficiencies. These could include workforce planning models, scenario planning, or sales planning.

Essentially, it’s the new financial planning kid on the block.

Benefits of extended planning

So, we’ve piqued your interest. Extended planning’s comprehensive analysis benefits companies struggling with operational bottlenecks affecting revenue.

Here are more reasons why this connected planning style might be your business's next best thing.

Dynamic processes

Extended planning is a rolling, or dynamic, way of planning ahead.

This continuous planning process allows for more flexibility if you need to pivot, implement a new timescale on a project, or address a supply chain crisis.

Transparency

Nobody wants shadowy organizations that don’t let everyone know what’s happening. 

The fact that extended planning models are continuously updated, and the number of departments involved, means there’s more accountability from everyone.

Investors and key stakeholders will significantly benefit from this.

Risk management

Your risk team will certainly be happy to see extended planning introduced.

Putting together such a wide range of data from different points across the company is a surefire way to spot and mitigate risks early on.

Drawbacks of extended planning

While the benefits are great, extended planning has some potential downsides.

You should carefully consider these before you implement any big changes.

Cost

Extended planning involves integrating a new system or software into the company, so it can quickly increase in price.

It’s also a resource-intensive exercise to fully integrate the data. You may need to hire and train staff to manage the process, so it’s an expense in multiple ways.

Data quality

Even once you’ve perfected the system, you might not get the best results without decent data. 

With a model so reliant on metrics, the quality of the inputted data is everything. This could look like incomplete, inaccurate, or out-of-date metrics.

Anything not up to scratch will throw off the outputs and impact the company’s decision-making process.

Resistance to change

If you tell anyone in the business that they or their team’s reporting workload is increasing, it won’t be a popular move.

Even when it’s for such a good reason, employees won’t appreciate the transition if it’s poorly handled.

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Planning processes

There are a few different methods that xP&A uses to be such a brilliant prediction model. Below, we’ve outlined some of the most common techniques you could harness to make the most of your data.

Data integration

We’ll start with the obvious one: integrating the company's relevant financial and operational data from different departments.

It sounds simple, but it can be tricky to see where to start.

The answer: let your business’s KPIs dictate the data streams, then work from there. You can always add or subtract metrics as needed.

Visualization tools

Humans are visual creatures by nature. Putting data in an easy-to-digest format like graphs and charts works well for something as complex as extended planning.

Using the software, you can create dashboards to show KPIs against goals, other relevant data points, and any risks. These can be fully customized to your company’s needs. 

Other standard visualizations for extended planning include maps to show geographic data, like sales by region, or heat maps to quickly identify trends.

Collaborative planning

To get the most out of extended operational planning, you’ll need the help of several key departments across your organization.

Each provides key metrics and information to build out the extended planning model. 

As a result, you’ll get different perspectives from each department that helps to give a wider picture of what’s going on in the company. This makes financial management much more efficient and encourages integrated business planning styles.

The upshot is your departments will work better together, there’ll be more buy-in for the new system, and more employees will feel connected to the company’s purpose.

A win-win!

Advanced analytics

Using advanced analytics for extended planning depends on the size of the business, but it could be your best investment yet for looking ahead.

Machine learning

Algorithms can detect trends and patterns in data that might otherwise go undetected.

They can detect areas for optimization. They can spot potential risks earlier.

What’s not to love?

Predictive modeling

Take some data, add stats and math, and you’ve got predictive modeling.

This technique models potential future outcomes based on the historical data inputted into it.

This can then inform of any risks and opportunities going forward.

Text analysis

You could implement text analytics if you have text-based data such as customer insights, survey responses, or product reviews.

It uses natural language processing to pull out any glimmers of information that might be useful for modeling.

Continuous improvement model

Extended planning is an ongoing process. Instead of annual updates, it requires more maintenance and integrated planning for a bigger pay-off.

Think of your data that might be regularly coming in: customer feedback, sales figures, or AP and AR to name a few. These all have a big impact on a company's financial and operational activity. Keeping xP&A updated means you’re not missing out on valuable information.

Continually updating the extended planning model means any issues in the company can be spotted quickly, staff can use the system regularly, and continuous experimentation to improve xP&A is possible.

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xP&A top tips

If you’re sold on the extended planning model, you might be wondering how best to go about making the switch. 

It’s not a one-size-fits-all process, so you’ll need to carefully look at your business and how it would work for you. Here are some ideas to get you started on the path to successful xP&A.

Work out the KPIs

For extended planning, it’s worth looking over the company’s financial and operational KPIs to steer the direction of the data you’re working with.

Without KPIs, you’re flying blind. Plugging in data sets without a goal or strategy in mind won’t give you the best results. In fact, you’ll likely have too much information to work with.

The name of the game is to choose relevant metrics to inform future decisions. KPIs give the extended planning much-needed structure to work within.

Think outside the box

Didn’t think financial budgeting could be creative? Think again. Extended planning allows businesses to dig into issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. 

Inputting new sources of information from otherwise overlooked data sets could bring new levels of insight to the company.

This could look like text analysis of social media posts for market trends, weather patterns for hospitality businesses, or location data.

Going against the grain to get deeper insights will only help to inform the financial decisions an organization should make.

Establish structure around the process

If you opt for a rolling extended planning model, it’s worth setting up a schedule of key dates.

There’ll be a few different departments to organize, so setting out a calendar of deadlines for reporting to be completed will smooth things out.

xP&A can be complex depending on the size of the business. You might even need to hire someone specifically trained and focused on extended planning, or add it into employee responsibilities. 

Key stakeholders and investors may want some oversight or involvement in the process. Setting up policies and regular evaluations to help the planning is always a good idea.

Train employees

A new system probably means new software or systems to learn. Encouraging ongoing learning around these will help to remedy any data silos in the company.

Trained employees confident in their abilities to work with the extended planning model will feel empowered to make their own decisions based on the information. 

You could encourage ongoing learning within your organization with professional memberships, webinars, and training courses.

Use internal comms to your advantage

Ultimately, extended planning is a different approach that needs communicating properly across any organization. Your communications team is a powerful tool for managing change across the business. 

If you’re implementing extended planning for the first time, the increased engagement and reporting needed from employees might result in some grumbles.

Internal communications teams can share information on your behalf, gather employee feedback, and build support.

You can engage staff in various channels such as emails, video campaigns, and other internal communications channels like Slack and Notion.

Conclusion

So is xP&A (extended planning and analysis) really the next best thing in finance since, well, Excel?

On the one hand, it's just a fancy term for holistic FP&A.

On the other hand, embracing an xP&A mentality is a great first step towards more comprehensive and accurate financial planning, which we can all get behind. 

No matter what kind of financial planning you're trying to do, Cube can help.

We integrate with Excel and Google Sheets, plus all of your source systems.

So it's never been easier to get your HRIS data into your Excel model and share it with the Head of Engineering over a Google Doc.

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