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Forecasting: It’s Getting Better

My business career started back in the industrial “Dark Ages”—the 1960s. One of my first promotions was to head up the company’s sales forecasting group. But don’t be misled: this was definitely not a big deal. The department was small and possessed not a lot of talent, being viewed by many as a semi-clerical group. When I told a friend that I got promoted into sales forecasting, her reaction was, “Gee, that’s too bad. What did you do wrong?”

After a short while on the job, I began to understand what she meant. Forecasting is most often the ultimate no-win game. You’re almost always wrong (except on those rare, random occasions when actual sales come in right on forecast); you get beat up routinely for your “lousy forecasts” and, unlike another non-fun activity—the once-per-year budgeting process—you must go through the forecasting cycle every month, perhaps more often.

After more time on the job, I concluded that whoever called economics the “dismal science” never had a job doing sales forecasting. It was not a lot of fun. And in some companies, things aren’t much different today.

Well, why not? After all, there’s a great deal of forecasting software now on the market, and that should certainly help, right? And we’re better educated today than we were back then, with many more M.B.A., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees available. Plus, we’ve had all those years to learn from our mistakes. Things surely should have gotten better, right?

Yes, they have. The good news is that the companies still in the Dark Ages are becoming fewer and, in an increasing number of companies, the forecasting situation is getting better. Things are improving—in some cases, quite a bit.