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Forecasting Future Performance with Confidence

The challenge

To report the most likely project outcome with confidence.

 Project reporting typically focuses on a single anticipated outcome rather than showing a range of potential outcomes with their associated levels of confidence. Providing a range of potential outcomes with likelihoods:

  • Allows early intervention when projects stray off target, thereby increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome
  • Enables potential changes in funding requirements to be identified in a timely manner along with necessary approvals that can then be processed without delaying the project.

While the text below relates to the internal reporting of projects, it could equally be used to report potential project outcomes from supplier to client.


The idea

Assessing and reporting a project’s most likely financial outcome, as well as best- and worst-case scenarios.

 The anticipated project outcome is presented as “most likely”, while also showing the best and worst cases. The most likely, best and worst cases are tracked on a regular basis to provide trends, giving a further level of confidence in the project reporting. This gives managers and project leaders a quantified perspective on the potential project outcome, which is more tangible and useful than a single forecast outcome or a “Red, Amber, Green” status. The process is simple and can be readily adopted, with limited training, unlike sophisticated risk analysis insight articles.


The impact

Better awareness of most likely project outcomes.

 Skanska uses the technique to improve the predictability of project outcomes, which in turn helps with business financial forecasting. The approach is used for profitability and cash forecasting at a project and business unit level, giving senior management a better appreciation of a project or business unit’s financial health.


The barriers to innovation – and the solutions

It is management, not financial, accounting.

Key internal barriers include:

  • A high degree of transparency is required in the project life cycle along with trust between senior managers and project teams. Managers and project leaders must not abuse the trust generated by transparent sharing of project performance data.
  • Incentivization, which is linked to the previous point. When setting bonus targets, it is important not to abuse the transparency required for the technique to be effective.
  • “That’s not the way we do things around here” or “not invented here” mindsets, typical of any change. Strong leadership overcomes this.
  • Confusion with strict accounting rules. The use of confidence reporting is part of management accounting and requires judgement and assessment, not simply the strict application of accounting rules.

There are no key external barriers to this approach. As it relates to management accounting it is not governed by strict accountancy rules


The way forward

Introducing confidence reporting through the use of a pilot, alongside existing reporting systems allows project teams and management to build an understanding of, and confidence in, the process.

 A relatively simple process will be required along with training therein. The best results are obtained when the project management team establishes and owns the forecasts, not simply leaving it to the finance team. The finance team must, however, be involved to ensure there is no contradiction with accounting rules. The approach demands transparency and trust between the project team and those to whom the numbers are being reported. The approach is an art, not a science, and therefore needs people who are not merely slaves to process.