Forecasting

This is the final post in a long MBA Mondays series on projections, budgets, and forecasts. Today we will talk about what happens when reality starts to differ from what you've budgeted – you re-forecast.

Let's go back to the framework I laid out at the start of this series. Projections are long-term high level efforts to establish the scope of the opportunity. Budgets are an effort to establish an operating framework for the coming year. And forecasts are done intra-year to establish what is likely to happen. As someone said in the comments, it's "long term, short term, and real-time."

Forecasts are typically done mid-year but they can and should be done whenever the actual performance differs significantly from what was budgeted. Forecasts are not an attempt to throw out the budget. The company should continue to measure itself and report against the budget. The forecast should exist beside the budget and show what management thinks is likely to happen.

Forecasts are important for a variety of reasons but first and foremost you want to know where your cash balances will actually be. And you'll want to know where you will be on your revenue growth trajectory. If you are planning on doing a financing, forecasts are important because they will give you an indication of what the metrics investors will be using when they offer you terms for a financing.

The process of doing a forecast is not very hard. You simply take the model you used for budgeting and put new numbers in for revenues and costs. The way most forecasts go down is the revenues are taken down to reflect slower sales growth. Then management looks at the costs in the budget. In some cases, costs are not adjusted because management feels that they need to continue to invest in the business. But in many cases, costs are adjusted down somewhat to reflect a desire to conserve cash. Either way, you'll have a new set of numbers for the months ahead.

You combine these new sets of numbers for the coming months with the actual results for the months that have already happened and you have your forecast.

Once you do a forecast, it is a good idea to keep updating it as the year develops. If you do a forecast at mid-year and by the fall that forecast is off, do another forecast. The forecast is not another budget you have to try to meet. It is an attempt to estimate actual results. So keep adjusting the forecast in an attempt to nail it.

As you get into the fall, you will start budgeting for the next year. Use the learning that came from the forecasting exercise to make next year's budget better. Think of budgets and forecasts as agile financial management. The budget is the annual release and the forecasts are the iterations based on feedback.

So that's it. We are now done with projections, budgeting, and forecasting. Next week we'll tackle a new topic.