How to Design the Optimal FP&A Organisation

The typical arguments for overlooking a well-thought-out organisational design are:

  • The current organisation can do the work if the chief financial officer (CFO) tells them to do it. It is merely a command from leadership, which will get the organisation to jump into the new work process or tools.
  • The design of the organisation has little to do with tools or the work process. There is no need to make substantial changes to how finance or other functions are designed. The functional leaders will request tools and work processes are designed around the organisation.
  • It is easy to change tools or the work process. However, if you make changes to the organisation, it will be too difficult and undermine a successful implementation.

Unfortunately, these arguments tend to put the organisation in a no-win situation. In the best case scenario, the organisation is able to use the tools or follow the work process but never leverage to create a step change in financial planning. In the worst case, the new tools or work process become parallel to the prior ones causing re-work and distraction for the entire organisation.

In most situations, projects need to be re-implemented to fix the outages. This distracts the organisation, drives significant project costs, and typically results in a sub-optimal financial planning design.


In his seminal 1992 work entitled ‘Organisational Culture and Leadership’, Edgar H. Schein, professor emeritus for Massachusetts’ MIT Sloan School of Management, defined “organisational culture” as follows:

“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”

This definition helps explain why SynFiny focuses so heavily on organisation when considering any type of financial planning redesign. Since organisations develop shared assumptions about the “correct and acceptable” way to complete any tasks, changes are open to rejection by the organisation since they are seen as counter to the norm, as outlined in Figure 1

Figure 1: Barriers to Change
SynFiny fig1
Source: SynFiny

This resistance to adoption can manifest itself as an open revolt or a gradual reshaping of the change back to the original design leading to sub-optimised results from the FP&A project implementation.

For this reason organisation is a key focus for FP&A transformation. The focus needs to be on culturally preparing the organisation for change, while ensuring that specific changes are implemented to create an effective and efficient FP&A design (driving adoption by the organisation).

Work Process Design Begets Organisation Design

It is in the definition and optimal design of who should do the work that most organisations fall short. Therefore, for those undertaking the task the first job is to document the FP&A work process, so that you will clearly understand all activities required to complete a given outcome. These activities can now be regrouped to drive efficiency and effectiveness by assigning technical teams that own specific parts of the process as experts in those tasks.

To note, there are many articles and papers that discuss creating or transforming the FP&A work process. These documents will help to better explain how developing a standard work process combined with the organisation redesign will enable improved performance.

Figure 2 below shows a high level FP&A-marketing budget work process, while also illustrating how best to segment the tasks into an improved organisational design.

Figure 2: FP&A-marketing Budget Work Process
SynFiny fig2
Source: SynFiny

In the organisation design shown above there are four main functions responsible for the end-to-end work process.

The leadership team owns the orange tasks, which relate to approval of marketing plans and budgets. These tasks should not be delegated to other organisations since the approval process triggers the entire work process. There is also an element of basic controls, which requires key leaders to approve budget changes.

Marketing owns the yellow tasks which relate to placing a purchase order, carrying out the marketing event and tracking their budget. These are focused on their business responsibilities or on the need to supply master data which only they know (for example,. requesting a purchase order).

Finance owns the red tasks, which relate to budget tracking, approvals and analysis. This allows finance to truly play a leadership position by focusing on financial analysis to determine whether the investments optimise return on investment (ROI) and are aligned to the business strategy rather than collecting marketing master data.

A technical team is available throughout the process to drive efficient and effective execution of the tasks.

What does Technical Support Mean?

A technical team is a specialised group that is responsible for the handling of routine activities. As mentioned above, by documenting the work process the common activities can be regrouped. This regrouping process allows for these routine tasks to be identified and then scaled up by assigning them to a technical team who become very efficient and effective at them. While this step can be optional, it frees up capacity within leadership, marketing, or finance so these business leaders can focus on where they add the highest value.

The Path Forward: Assign an FP&A Owner and Get Moving

Hopefully the examples above illustrate why the organisation design is such a critical part of the overall creation or transformation of FP&A. The next stage is a six-step process, as follows:

  1. Assign an FP&A project owner focused on organisational redesign.
  2. Establish a working group from the FP&A team, to better understand current culture issues holding back FP&A transformation.
  3. Create an action plan to address the key cultural issues, which may include working across business units or other functions.
  4. Develop the future FP&A organisational design (integrated with work process).
  5. Gain alignment within the FP&A team and approval from C-level sponsors.
  6. Reap the benefits of the transformation.

Organisation is important to the success of an FP&A process. Only by understanding it can you obtain better business and financial results.


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