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Annual Operating Plan Definition: AOP meaning in finance

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Published: July 27, 2023Reading time: 7 min
o9 Solutions The Digital Brain Platform
o9 SolutionsThe Digital Brain Platform

What is AOP in Finance?

Why important?


How to create an AOP

Best practices


Published: July 27, 2023

An Annual Operating Plan (AOP) is a financial planning tool used by businesses to anticipate their revenue and expenses for the upcoming year. It’s a crucial component of effective financial management and is typically developed by business owners, senior managers, or department heads.

The purpose of the AOP in finance is to outline projected sales revenue, costs of goods and services, gross margin estimates, operating expenses, and net income for the year. Additionally, it includes a cash flow analysis that predicts the timing of cash inflows and outflows.

This article provides a deeper understanding of the significance of AOP in finance and takes a look at how it works.

What is AOP in Finance? The Real Meaning of Annual Operating Plans

Business planning is an essential practice for every company, typically carried out on an annual basis. It involves projecting volumes, costs, and profits and, in some cases, long-range forecasting which extends over three to seven years. This is particularly valuable for businesses with longer product development cycles as it aids in capacity planning and long-term expansion strategies.

Within the business planning framework, an annual operating plan (AOP) is established, consisting of key performance indicators (KPIs), operating budgets, and strategic plans.

The AOP serves as a roadmap for businesses to efficiently allocate financial and physical resources and achieve their specific short- and long-term objectives. In short, it enables the development of day-to-day frameworks that support the overall goals of the company.

Why is AOP in finance important and the benefits of an Annual Operating Plan

An annual operating plan (AOP) is crucial for organizations, serving as a roadmap that helps them achieve objectives efficiently. As a comprehensive document that outlines specific targets and strategies, it prevents resource wastage, maintains focus, and enhances the chances of success.

An effective AOP also plays a vital role in communicating the company's goals and objectives to stakeholders such as investors, employees, and customers. It fosters alignment within the organization, facilitates decision-making, and guides resource allocation.

By integrating with strategic planning, an annual operating plan ensures that employees comprehend their roles and responsibilities, enabling them to coordinate efforts effectively towards accomplishing business objectives. Here are additional benefits of having an annual operating plan:

The Benefits of Annual Operating Plans

Make Department Plans and Strategies More Data-Driven

With an AOP, companies can better understand data, right down to the impact of costs per head, per month, or per vendor. This improves the accuracy and flexibility of SaaS revenue forecasting.

Align Cross-Functional Departments With Business Goals

Business leaders can curate job roles and department goals based on what’s outlined in an annual operating plan to ensure their team members align with key company objectives.

Help Highlight Potential Need for Fundraising or Spending Re-Evaluation

An annual operating plan can help you have more granular conversations with stakeholders or business owners about how changes in spending could improve performance as market and business conditions shift throughout the year.

Give Departments a Guidepost for Tracking Performance and Goals

A strong AOP will help various departments track their progress and ensure they take the necessary initiatives to achieve company objectives throughout the fiscal year.

Annual Operating Plan process: how to create an Annual Operating Plan?

Now that you have a better understanding of what an annual operating plan is and why it's important, let's take a closer look at the key steps that go into creating one. These are:

1. Setting Clear Objectives and Goals
The first step in creating an effective annual operating plan is to identify your organization's key objectives and goals for the year. These should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

By setting clear objectives upfront, you can more effectively measure your progress throughout the year and ensure that everyone in your organization is aligned around the same goals.

For example, if your organization's objective is to increase revenue by 10% this year, a SMART goal would be to increase sales by 5% in the first quarter, 3% in the second quarter, and 2% in the third and fourth quarters. This structure helps break down the larger objective into smaller, more manageable goals that can be tracked and adjusted as needed. See how Prefect improved their strategic planning by 3x using this framework here.

2. Identifying Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Once you have identified your objectives, you need to identify KPIs that help you measure progress toward these goals. These should be tied to specific purposes and based on available data within your organization — for example, revenue growth, customer retention rates, and employee engagement scores.

Choosing KPIs that are relevant to your organization and can be easily tracked and measured is essential. For example, if your objective is to increase customer retention rates, your KPI might be the percentage of customers who make a repeat purchase within a specific timeframe. For a deeper understanding of how to think about retention and churn for your KPI, check out this guide that we put together.

3. Establishing a Realistic Budget
No operating plan is complete without a well-thought-out budget. This should consider all the expenses associated with achieving your objectives, including salaries, benefits, equipment, travel, and marketing. It's important to be realistic when setting your budget, as overestimating revenue or underestimating expenses can lead to inaccurate forecasting and missed targets.

When creating your budget, it's essential to consider any potential risks or uncertainties that could impact your revenue or expenses. For example, if your organization relies heavily on a single supplier, you need to consider the potential impact of any disruptions to their operations. Check out these templates to help you get started.

4. Defining Roles and Responsibilities
In order to ensure that everyone in your organization is working toward the same goals, it's important to define roles and responsibilities for each department or function. This might include identifying who is responsible for overseeing specific projects or initiatives and outlining each team member's key tasks and deliverables.

By clearly defining roles and responsibilities, you can ensure that everyone is aware of their individual contributions to the larger objectives and that everything is clear.

5. Creating a Timeline for Execution
With your objectives, KPIs, budget, and roles defined, the next step is to create a timeline for executing your annual operating plan. This should include specific milestones and deadlines for each department or function, and contingency plans in case of unexpected roadblocks or delays. By creating a clear timeline upfront, you can ensure that everyone in your organization is on the same page during execution.

It's also important to regularly review and adjust your timeline as needed to ensure that you stay on track and that any unexpected issues are promptly addressed. Regularly reviewing your progress and making adjustments as needed will ensure that your organization can achieve its objectives and reach its full potential.

Annual Operating Plan best practices

To write an annual operations plan, business leaders should first hone their strategic plan and identify SMART business objectives. From here, key performance indicators should be determined to track performance.

Measure the performance of the previous year’s AOP before starting a new plan. Performing a ‘post-game’ will help reduce bias and create more realistic estimates.

The AOP and related Budgets are critical planning activities for any organization but be careful not to encourage business users to treat the plans as the absolute truth. Forecasting to Budget can create biased plans that are blinkered to what may actually be happening.

A tracking system must be determined and used to monitor the progress towards achieving these goals and the plan must be communicated to everyone involved to make certain they are on the same page.

Summary: AOP software by o9 Solutions

  • Align performance with business goals with an operating plan that captures strategic intent.
  • Bring S&OP and AOP processes together in one platform to become a more responsive organization.
  • Reduce the time and costs associated with AOP by moving to a digital collaborative platform.
  • Transform functional measurements and performance management to center around business goals.
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About the author

o9 Solutions The Digital Brain Platform

o9 Solutions

The Digital Brain Platform

o9 offers a leading AI-powered Planning, Analytics & Data platform called the Digital Brain that helps companies across industry verticals transform traditionally slow and siloed planning into smart, integrated and intelligent planning and decision making across the core supply chain, commercial and P&L functions. With o9’s Digital Brain platform, companies are able to achieve game-changing improvements in quality of data, ability to detect demand and supply risks and opportunities earlier, forecast demand more accurately, evaluate what-if scenarios in real time, match demand and supply intelligently and drive alignment and collaboration across customers, internal stakeholders and suppliers around the integrated supply chain and commercial plans and decisions. Supported by a global ecosystem of partners, o9’s innovative delivery methodology helps companies achieve quick impact in customer service, inventory levels, resource utilization, as well as ESG and financial KPIs—while enabling a long-term, sustainable transformation of their end-to-end planning and decision-making capabilities.


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