Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Storm Up Ahead

It's Sunday afternoon, and I'm on the eve of what will likely be the busiest, most painful week of work all year.  Well, among the top three anyway.  The week after next doesn't hold much more promise, and the first week of June will make a run for the top of the charts, too.  Why the stress?  Two words: Spring Plan.

Around this time every year, we build the cost of goods sold budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts in June.  This is my second time through the process, but it is unfortunately my first time leading the process for the group.  At this time last year I'd only been in the job a few months; I could barely find the way to the drinking fountain, let alone lead a major process.  I hardly understood what was going on back then, and my confidence is only marginally higher today.  The one thing I took away out of all that Spring Plan confusion last year was that when my turn came, I should work ahead as much as I could, because the deadlines come fast and furious in late April and early May.

It was good advice for my future self, but unfortunately, I've realized this year just how little I can accomplish in advance.  We present the first semi-official version of the COGS budget on Friday, and we haven't even finished building it.  The amount of work that needs to get done between Monday and Friday is downright frightening.  If I could spend today getting some of that work done, then this would be a much shorter blog post.  But there are too many missing inputs and too many meetings that need to happen this week for me to check anything meaningful off the to-do list.  I can see that work is lining up to deliver a forceful kick to my groin this week, and there's not a thing I can do about it...

Despite my best efforts, most of the work is going to get crammed into a two-day window (tomorrow and Tuesday), because we present a preview of the budget in a pre-meeting to the main meeting on Wednesday afternoon.  With two days to do a month's worth of work, everyone is stressed out and ready to kill each other.  We have to request information from people that simply isn't available yet, then find ourselves in a vicious catch-22, asking for inputs to the budget that should be an output of the budget-building process.  The inevitable compromise is "give it your best guess," but we're left holding the bag when Spring Plan is all screwed up.

The strange part is, the process of actually building the budget isn't all that complicated or time-consuming.  It's the insane number of Excel templates and PowerPoint presentations we have to complete, explaining in painstaking detail exactly what changed from this year to next year.  The toughest, most panic-inducing part of the process is filling out the templates in a way that tells a positive story, regardless of the actual numbers we're given.  The process of building that story can (or at least should) take a very long time, but it all has to happen on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Once Wednesday afternoon hits, the presentations begin.  We present the first look at of the budget on Wednesday.  We'll get poked, prodded, and challenged to make adjustments.  We'll update the maze of Excel spreadsheets, revise the PowerPoint presentations, then do it all again on Friday.  More poking and probing, then back into the labyrinth of Excel templates; more revisions to the PowerPoint presentations.

Early the following week, we receive two more key inputs to our overall budget, and then it's déjà vu.  Fill out more templates, build another PowerPoint presentation.  Then Thursday arrives, and we present the almost-final budget to even higher ranking people.  It's déjà vu of déjà vu--poking, probing, changes to the budget, updates to the spreadsheets.

The two weeks after that will return to something resembling "normal," but once the fiscal year closes at the end of May, we redo the whole budget in two days--I kid you not.  We get roughly forty-eight hours to adjust and take into account how the fiscal year actually ended, since right now we're building our budget for next year based on (inevitably wrong) assumptions about how we'll finish this year.  By the middle of June, this image will be burned into my retinas:

The most common phrase at the office these days--and one I'm sick of hearing--is, "did you build that into Spring Plan?!"  Everyone wants to know what assumptions we're making in the budget.  Did we put enough dollars in?  Did we put too many dollars in?  Everyone wants to make sure we're capturing every little change, overlooking the fact that at this point, most of the underlying information we're working with is weeks or months old.  And every time we have to make even the slightest change, it creates hours of rework as it cascades through spreadsheet after spreadsheet.  It's a finance nightmare.

That's a very long-winded way of saying that I hate Spring Plan.  If this were happening to someone else, I'd probably laugh--the ridiculousness and absurdity of the process is humorous, in a sad and twisted way.  In meeting after meeting over the past few weeks, I've been tempted to point out to everyone that this is only a plan!  I desperately want to remind them that no matter what numbers we put on paper (or enter in an Excel spreadsheet, for that matter), it's not going to impact next year's performance or profit in any way.  So far I've been able to bite my tongue...but how long can I keep it up?

Perhaps that's what I find so motivating about this whole endeavor.  Why should life become unbearable for three weeks when the output of that effort doesn't make one bit of difference in the end?  To top it off, leading the Spring Plan process is a very thankless job--if you do it reasonably well, everyone takes it as a given that the plan should be accurate and thoughtful.  If you screw it up, your name will come up in every monthly business update throughout the next fiscal year as the bosses explain why actual results are deviating from Spring Plan.  So there's no pressure or anything...

In other news, dreading Monday has made me realize that Sunday is really only good for one thing: to act as a buffer between Saturday and Monday.  Without Sunday, I don't think I could truly enjoy my Saturdays. By the time Sunday hits, I'm nearly as depressed as if I were actually at work.  Of all the days of the week, Monday takes the brunt the world's complaining, but I feel much better on a Monday night than I do on a Sunday afternoon or evening.  Over the past few months, I've found myself staying up later and later on Saturday nights, subconsciously avoiding going to sleep because I know that when I wake up the next morning, a little piece of my soul will have died overnight.

Even writing the word "Sunday" makes me twitch.  I think I'll start spelling it "Sundae"...I won't dread Monday any less, but at least I'll have a positive image in my mind as I prepare for the week.

No comments:

Post a Comment