Delivering suprising analyses

Controllers delivering surprising analyses. Of course they should. But what to analyze?


Ask any CFO what more their controllers should do. The answers will probably all point in the same direction: controllers should deliver more “surprising analyses” to the business. Tracing hidden business opportunities. Unlocking new datasets that tell an exciting story. Surely, that should be quite easy with new IT tools becoming available each day. So, why do we still not meet this need to deliver more surprising analyses? I think the challenge is mainly in the heads of controllers. Due to other work and distractions controllers don’t allow themselves enough time to step back and make up their minds on what new analyses to dive into. Or they experience such an abundance of alternatives that the agony of choice could have an immobilizing effect. To help these controllers, I have lined up three questions that could be helpful to discover opportunities for surprising analysis:   


1.      What are your strategic priorities not yet covered in your management reports on progress and results?

Read your strategic plan carefully and mark the objectives you don’t pay a lot of attention to in your management reports. Pick one objective and think up a fitting performance measure. Collect data on this measure and find out the story behind these numbers. As a consultant I have supported many surprising analyses. For example, on the development of new partnerships, the potential of new customer segments, departments with high and low productivity and overhead value. There are always exiting and important topics that are not covered in the standard planning & control process. 


2.      What underlying KPI details are not visible on your dashboard?

Great, if you have clearly defined KPI dashboards that are discussed regularly in your management teams. But, what is the composition of a KPI (numerator and denominator)? And, what are the scores at lower levels of detail that remain hidden by the law of large numbers? Where are these data and how to get them on the table? Below green lights, red lights can flicker. And up and downward trends can hide behind each light. Or do we just have too little ambition in our target setting? All these questions are great to dive into. And, mind you, we are only talking about one KPI.    


3.      What were interesting incidents?

You don’t necessarily need a strategic plan or KPI dashboard to make surprising analyses. A great source of analysis can be found by just asking the right questions on your daily operations. For example, about big returns, costs of failure, terminated customer contracts, delivery times, customer complaints, proposal lead times. If you apply a simple and structured approach of an analysis the root causes of incidents can be discovered that will provide surprising opportunities to improve your business process and profitability.

Does this sound too good to be true? Then here are a few tips to discover and deliver surprising analyses: don’t do this on your own but involve your internal business network. That will save you a lot of time and adds much more creativity to thoroughly analyze your issues and to find and select practical solutions. And, there’s more good news: after you have done an exercise like this once or twice, you will develop a great skill to do this much more efficiently. Your internal business network will grow and you will build a great overview of your data sources and business processes. In short: your surprising analyses will definitely advance your personal development and career.


Bart Vermaas

CFO Partners