Managing the budget numbers can be simple, but managing a budget takes people, not spreadsheets. While budget numbers are simple, budget management isn’t. To make a budget work, you need to add real management:
- Understand that it’s about people: Successful budgeting depends on people management more than anything else. Every budgeted item must be “owned” by somebody, meaning that the owner has responsibility for spending, authority to spend, and the belief that the spending limit is realistic. People who don’t believe in a budget won’t try to implement it. People who don’t believe that it matters won’t worry about a budget either.
- Budget “ownership” is critical: To “own” a budget item is to have the authority to spend and responsibility for spending. Ideally a budget management system makes plan-vs.-actual results visible to a group of managers, so that there is peer pressure that rewards budgeting successes and penalizes budgeting failures.
- Budgets need to be realistic: Nobody really owns a budget item until they believe the budget amount is realistic. You can’t really commit to a budget you don’t believe in.
- It’s also about following up: Unless the people involved know that somebody will be tracking and following up, they won’t honor a budget. Publishing budget plan and actual results will make a world of difference. Rewards for budget success and penalties for budget failures can be as simple as peer group managers sharing results.
Your budget and milestones work together
As you develop your budget, keep in mind your business plan milestones. That’s where you set specific goals, dates, responsibilities, and budgets for your managers. It makes a plan concrete. Make sure your budget matches your milestones.
Ideally, every line in a budget is assigned to somebody who is responsible for managing that budget. In most cases you’ll have groups of budget areas assigned to specific people, and a budgeting process that emphasizes commitment and responsibility. You’ll also need to make sure that everybody involved knows that results will be followed up.
The ideal plan relates the budgets to the Milestones table. The Milestones table takes all the important activities included in a business plan and assigns them to specific managers, with specific dates and budgets. It also tracks completion of the milestones and actual results compared to planned results.