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Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever, once stated, "At Unilever, we believe that transparency about your sources, your impacts, and your efforts to reduce negative environmental or social effects is a precondition to being a responsible business.” This idea leads us smoothly into our topic for today: Variance Analysis, a crucial component of successful Strategic Planning and Performance Management.

Variance Analysis is a quantitative examination of the differences between budgeted and actual behavior of a business. It's used to manage cost control, budgeting, and performance evaluation in a company. According to a recent survey by Accenture, nearly 70% of business leaders rely on data and analytics like Variance Analysis to drive their decision-making processes. By analyzing these variances, companies can adjust their strategies to become more cost-effective and operationally efficient.

Variance Analysis and Operational Excellence

Variance Analysis enables companies to achieve Operational Excellence by identifying problem areas, understanding cost overruns, and refining future budgeting and forecasting processes. Data from McKinsey’s Global Institute, suggests that organizations that effectively apply Variance Analysis can enhance their profit margin by as much as 60%.

Variance Analysis, broken down into its most basic components, involves the comparison of planned versus actual outcomes. When actual expenses exceed budgeted costs, adverse or unfavorable variances occur. In contrast, when planned expenses exceed actual costs, companies experience favorable or positive variances. Interpreting these variances—both positive and negative—provides invaluable insight into a company's financial health and operational efficiency.

Best Practices in Variance Analysis

Effective Variance Analysis contains several best practices. These include timely reporting, flex-budgeting, trend analysis, and inter-firm comparison. Below, we detail each practice:

Variance Analysis: From Reactive to Proactive Management

In our fast-paced, data-driven business world, Variance Analysis provides executives a proactive approach to cost management, performance tracking, and strategic decision-making. By incorporating Variance Analysis as an integral part of Performance Management, businesses can transition from a reactive approach—correcting variances retrospectively—to a proactive one—anticipating and mitigating variances before they even occur.

The Future of Variance Analysis

The future of Variance Analysis lies in the integration of advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. According to a study by Gartner, companies that combine Variance Analysis with predictive analytics can anticipate customer needs, detect changes in market conditions, and evaluate business performance more effectively than their competitors, resulting in a direct and substantial impact on their bottom line.

To close this discussion—though we are not allowed to have a section named thus—embracing Variance Analysis facilitates a continuous cycle of improvement by providing companies the visibility they need to make strategic business decisions. It is a powerful tool that promotes Accountability, Transparency, and Operational Excellence by helping companies identify where they are falling short and where opportunities for improvement abound.


Since 2012, we have provided best practices to over 10,000 businesses and organizations of all sizes across the world—in over 130 countries. Below is just a very small sample of our customer base.

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