Annual report_project plan

Are you the project lead for planning the annual report [free template]?

Do you review and take a long, good look at your annual report process every year? Without an actual project plan and strategy, things can get messy, rushed, or in the worst case, error-filled. And it can be nearly impossible to correct those after publishing the annual report.  

We have put together a checklist of what to remember before starting, the essential elements, and a project plan template you can use or edit as it fits your company. Whether you are new to the role of project lead for the annual report, new to the team, or just seeking inspiration on how other companies are planning their process, this blog is for you.

This piece will cover the following:

  • 5 tips to succeed in planning the Annual Report
    • Tip 1: Start early
    • Tip 2: Include people with Annual Report experience
    • Tip 3: Present your data visually
    • Tip 4: Include your CEO’s statement letter
    • Tip5: Ensure you have dataflow processes in place
  • The group CFOs checklist for getting started
    • Set the project team
    • Agree upon key objectives, key messages, and themes
    • Outline the report
    • Prepare your timeline and project plan
  • Download project template with timeline [Excel]

5 tips to succeed in planning the annual report

For many finance professionals, the annual report is approaching. And compared to other financial reports, this report demands attention and information from more people than finance. Trying to get everyone aligned and ensure that nothing will be rushed can seem overwhelming, even for the most experienced finance professionals. The following five tips originate from our own company experience, an insight into learnings from our customers, and inside knowledge from years in the finance industry.

Tip 1: Start early

When to start the process depends on when your fiscal year ends. For many finance departments, it follows the year, and those of you will already have begun the process. Maybe you have too. If not, then now is the time. If there is one key element to remember: The annual report needs more than finance!

If you have a deadline mid of February, we will recommend a start in mid-October; it is always better to be prepared and be ahead. Everyone working on the annual report will still have their daily tasks, meetings, and ad hoc deliverables – starting early, you can minimize delays and adequately plan the process.

So, collect your team, and get ready for kick-off.

Tip 2: Include people with Annual report experience

Before starting, it is a good idea to look into agencies, strategic partnerships, consultants, or other people who have experience with the Annual Report.  These experienced people are valuable in this process. They will have all the knowledge you need about the stakeholders and the requirements the annual report needs to make an impact. You know the numbers, but the value is more than the financial statements –sometimes, we forget that in finance.

The annual report is more than just a regular financial report. It is one of the most read documents, especially by investors, so there is no room for mistakes. Therefore, you need people with experience who can write and influence the project’s direction. But also help to ensure you reach deadlines and align all efforts with the goal – all the way through.

Tip 3: Present your data visually

Looking back at earlier annual reports, how have you presented the data? It might not be a top priority usually, but maybe it should. The annual report is a heavy document, and in a world where we constantly consume much information, how we present it becomes a critical factor.

Therefore, include people who know color use, which sections to highlight, and language use (is it easy to read). Their fundamental purpose should be to ensure that the company’s overall presentation tells the right story. You can compare this document to a brand credibility presentation – the information it contains will feed into other communication documents throughout the year. Just think of your investor presentations, strategy, and quarterly reports.

And if you do it right, you can reach more than investors by showcasing vision, results, employees, case studies, ESG efforts, and strategy. Remember, it is not just your investors who read the annual report but also new employees, partners, customers, and more.

Tip 4: Include your CEO’s statement letter

Guess which part of the annual report is primarily read. You would think it was the financial statement. But frankly, it is the letter from the CEO. Therefore, start to use it to your own advantage.

A tip is to start this draft as early as possible, as it can also help to set the tone for the entire Annual Report. Ensure it contains recent initiatives, vision, values, and thought leadership – all you want to see from a good leader.

Note: a visionary is excellent, but a realistic and grounded one is better.

Tip 5: Ensure you have data flow processes in place

What is your process for collecting data across the organization? If you all share the same excel sheet, try to look into how much time you use on error-tracking. This result should guide you in deciding whether you need automated processes to minimize time spent on this. If there are one thing auditors and the audience do not like. It is finding errors in the numbers after the publish date.

If you always have these tips in mind before the kick-off meeting, you will already have an excellent start to the project.

The Group CFOs checklist for getting started

Where our tips are general considerations, we have created a checklist to guide you in producing a streamlined annual report.

If you are just getting started, you need to begin by locating key areas and goals for the project team to get started.

#1: Set the project team, roles, and responsibilities

Have you created your entire team, or unsure if you are missing something? These are the questions you should have the answer to when you kick off the project. For example, does your annual report include people from HR, Marketing, Board, Consultant, Finance, etc.?

    • Have you decided upon a project lead? (In many cases, this will be the CFO, but in some instances, the project lead will be the controller/manager)
    • Who will oversee the process regarding the storyline and company brand? (e.g., the head of marketing/communications, an external consultant, or a small team)
    • Do you need to involve the board?
    • Who provides content? (who in which department and company will provide content? It might be Development’s roadmap, HR’s employee insights, CEO’s strategy, a subsidiary’s new offering, etc.)
    • Who will be the final approval of content? (You can always edit content, so from the start, agree upon who will be the last link)
    • Who will help with the layout? (do you have a graphic designer internally who will have time to focus on this project, or do you need to outsource – outsourcing gives excellent results but also demand that you start early in the process)

#2: Agree upon key objective, messaging, and theme

When you have created your team, the next is to agree upon the key objective of this year’s annual report and, thereby, your theme and messaging. Base it on the answer to the two following questions, and it is always a good idea to look at the previous year’s objective and how the company reached that.

    • Who will be your audience? (if it is investors, new employees, current/new stakeholders, or others?)
    • What action do you want them to take when they have read it? (be specific)

In the kick-off meeting then, agree upon the following:

    • What is this year’s theme (Talk with the CEO, board, and annual report partners, and look at how to align it with the following year)
    • What are the key accomplishments you want to share? (Talk with directors across the company and locate the top accomplishments that align with your strategy)
    • How can you communicate your purpose and value throughout the report (Ensure to communicate in a way that shows it from your stakeholders’ point of view – make sure it is authentic and not ‘what sounds good’) 
    • Identify your key messages (Based on the question above, identify the key messages you want to portray throughout the report. Thereafter, locate the stories you need to support these)
    • Do your financial results support your story? (This close to year-end, you should already know about your results and whether they support your story – if not, rethink your messaging.)
    • How should the visual brief be? (Do you need new photographs, infographics, etc.?)

#3 Outline the annual report

What should you include in the report? Executive summary, a letter from the CEO, a letter from the chairman, an ESG report, etc. It all depends on whom you are talking to. But the key is to decide upon this in advance, which will outline the way you use the project plan.

    • The CEO/Chairman letter (As mentioned above, this is often the most read part of the annual report, but should you include the chairman)
    • Case studies (Who can be the face of your product’s functionalities and support your vision, mission, and purpose statements?)
    • Highlight pages & key events (Key accomplishments, reached goals, new initiatives, or other key facts from the previous year)
    • Strategy (product, market review, outlook)
    • Environmental, Social, and Governance (Ensure you have this one ready, and look into how other companies in your field fill it out, as many people today measure a company’s performance on this part too.
    • Thank you page or shareholder information (Are you an NPG, do you have important partners, are you a noted company – these pages depend on the industry you are in)

#4 Prepare your timeline and project plan

There is only one thing left: get the practicalities in place for the project plan.

    • What is the budget?(Whether you use external agencies, printing, graphics, consultants, or others – the budget will determine the possibilities)
    • What is the deadline? (Start by setting the end date – and work backward toward the start to develop a realistic timeframe for all deliverables)
    • When do you need the first draft of the written content? (We recommend writing and having everything proofread before the year-end. Then, you have room for error-checking the numbers, unforeseen elements like new risks, a delay in collecting numbers, etc.)
    • Locate dependencies (Do you need interviews, or are you dependent on the final Christmas sale – ensure these are visible for the team deadlines.)
    • Sign off on content (Whether it is the board, the CEO, the CFO, or others – be aligned entirely on the end date and make room for last-minute changes)
    • Make a transparent review process (who will be the reviewers of every part, who will have the final say, and how many rounds of edits do you want room for?)

Download project template with timeline [Excel]

The only thing left now is dividing tasks and locating all the areas you can do without the numbers. Go through last year’s report to see what worked. Can you re-use the format? Whether your group is starting your financial reporting or you are just seeking inspiration, we have shared an excel template for getting started today. However, do you already have project planning tools like Monday, Asana, or Trello that you can use across the company? Then we recommend building your timeline, division of tasks, and project plan there and just using our template for inspiration.

Good luck