How LifeStance Health Transformed FP&A in Just 3 Weeks with Noah Pieper

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This is a podcast episode titled, How LifeStance Health Transformed FP&A in Just 3 Weeks with Noah Pieper. The summary for this episode is: <p>LifeStance Health had to modernize budgeting and reporting to keep up with the speed and demands for increased visibility from the business. But, fears of a long and expensive transition kept them stuck in spreadsheets. Hear Noah Pieper, Director of FP&amp;A, describe how the company quickly moved to Planful for budgeting and reporting in weeks, and transitioned, in under one quarter, to full forecasting and reporting for better visibility across the business .</p>
High growth, manual processing, outdated reports impeded on business success
01:23 MIN
Achieving reporting success in 3 weeks
01:56 MIN
Producing mass reports on demand with Report Collections
01:07 MIN
Reducing reporting time with Dynamic Commentary
01:33 MIN

Noah Pieper: Thank you for that introduction. It's a pleasure of mine to be here and present to you guys and walk you through a little bit of my recent experience with Planful and my implementation that we just did it. Like it was mentioned, I've done three implementations. And so I'll give a little context to that as well. My name's Noah Pieper, I'm the Director of FP and A at LifeStance Health. LifeStance Health is a behavioral health company that has over 4, 000 clinicians supporting patients and individuals across the US. I have implemented it a few times, but really a lot of what we're trying to do is look for that scalability, building accuracy and transparency in our information. And so Planful has helped me many times do that. And what we'll walk through today is a little bit of what that problem statement was that we just looked at, at my current company, how we approached it, what our outcomes were, a couple of those quick wins that I'll talk through, and then overall our organizational impact and how we saw this affect our company in a very short amount of time and changed the way that our analysts, and our business owners, and budget owners viewed their information and were more engaged with that process. So throughout this process, we always look at and try to establish something that is a design, create and enable. And so really in the beginning of our plan implementations, what do we want to accomplish? How do we want to design the system? Then, how are we going to quickly create something that ultimately enables both our customers, our internal customers as analysts and finance managers, as well as getting engagement from those business stakeholders? And so throughout this, I'll try to lay those out a little bit, but keep in mind, that is a constant process that you want to be able to evaluate and look through as you're setting up your system. So for LifeStance, our problem is that we're really impeding our business. Where I'll talk through four things. And that was, we're a high growth company, we've been around for four years, but we've grown exponentially over those four years. And so, we have over 700 locations now, which is rolling up and aggregating in a lot of very complex ways and having to slice and report that data very differently. We had a very manual process in how we'd pull our data out of NetSuite, do reporting, sometimes have to redo reporting again and produce our packages for review. There was a lack of transparency that was kind of happening with our budget owners, in the sense that, how they could see information in real time, as well as getting down to that transactional level and being engaged within the process. Then finally, those reports at the end get stored different places. They're out of date, they get maybe stored on a SharePoint or even on somebody's desktop. And so getting to a single place where all that can be stored. So as we went through this implementation process, we really lay out guiding principles for what do we want this to be? And what do we going to accomplish through this? And how do we tell our executives the value that we're going to gain by implementing a assist them like Planful? And so with that, we, we laid out these five, and those five being is a single source of truth. The data that will come out of the system is what we will report and what we will be sharing and validating to, and making sure that that is what we're reviewing. It's a permission system, meaning that people will have access to what they should have access to. Business owners in the East Coast can see their East Coast data, but not their West Coast data. And so it really gives us a better environment to not overshare information, but really to focus people on what they have ownership of. We wanted a revision system something that could make comparisons very easily. Budgets versus actuals, forecast in July versus current forecast and very quickly run reports and compare scenarios. Getting out of Excel is a common thing for finance. Excel is very powerful, I love Excel personally, we all love Excel, but there's places for it within our planning process. And within our analysis process. What we find within Excel, right? Is there's a formula errors, time to process becomes kind of static to the data itself. And so we wanted to get people out of that continuous process of exporting data and making their own reports. And then finally getting to a real time reporting environment, where if a changes made within the system, they could then see that change without having to contact FP and A, or reporting team to process it for them and send it back. And so through that process, we had to establish really, how are we going to do this? And how are we going to do this quickly? Because we were going through a very exponential growth, but expedited timeline. And so, prior to the kickoff, we had to evaluate some of those things. And so we looked at, who's going to be on this project team? And what timeline do we want to execute this to? What do we want to get out of it during each one of these segments? How are we going to connect to our data? Do we have, have an ODBC connection that we can connect to? Or are we going to do a data load rule and get it in there? How often can we do that? How do we define what we're going to hierarchy and roll up our business to? Which ways are we going to slice it, or view it? At our company, those 700 locations have a lot of different ways that we slice our data. Maybe it's by state, maybe it's a type of location. Did we acquire it? Did we build it? When did we do that? Was it in 2019 or 2020? And so there's lots of different ways we try to slice our business and we wanted to make sure that we could report on all of those. So for just a high level view of what our timeline was, we did this, this year. So in March 8th is when our environment went live, by the end of March, that three to four week time period, we were beginning to do structured reporting, we were building within Spotlight Excel reports, and we were making immediate impact to our business to get us out of Excel, get us into real time information gathering. By the end of April, we then built our templates and started to do a roll forward forecast. Ultimately, about in June, we started implementing other features like dynamic commentary and report collections to really show the value of the business and really be able to scale it even further. So just another example of how kind of that roll up and complexity works. So at LifeStance Health, we have eight different divisions. Those divisions are made up of multiple states. And so within each state, there might be multiple practices, and in any given practice, there might be multiple locations. So, there's multiple ways we're kind of aggregating this data up and wanting to slice and see the reports. Now, not all of these are built fundamentally within our hierarchy and our structure. And so we have to use a combination of both our hierarchy, as well as our attributes on those locations to slice our information. So, like I was mentioning before, on the left hand side, you can see that central is a division of ours and there's multiple states, Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma that roll up into central, but there is also attributes assigned to it. We might have an acquisition code, or what type of location it is, or the vintage year of it. And that really gave us something that was very unique to what we were doing before, and NetSuite and other financial reporting products weren't able to add that attribute selection for us. So as we progressed through that process, we got to that point of making our report collections. So, what is a report collection? It's a way that we can mass produce on demand, a series of reports and slice it a lot of different ways. We implemented it with a visual dynamic commentary, so that we could bring in comments to those reports, and ultimately be able to email them around or share them either through Excel, table of content view to click through on tabs, or PDFs. And so, as we approach this design, create and enable, we went down this process of, first, we had to make our row sets and column sets, and build out and create a structured report, we enabled dynamic commentary, which I'll talk about here in a sec, and then ultimately, we built out our report collections. In those report collections, there's other presentations that have occurred throughout this Perform session and there's more information online about them. But as you make a report collection, you can define which report is going to be replicated and then how to replicate and produce the collection. The output of that can either be in PDF or Excel. And in our case, we use an Excel view of that. And as you can see, we start with central again, and then we now have our states, and then we have our acquisitions, or practices underneath of those, which is in our case, a attribute onto those locations. So we're able to mix and match those within this report collection, and really be able to burst out a large amount of reports in one click of a button. This reduced a lot of our finance processing time. Our team was spending basically a day a month, creating these packages. Exporting it, figuring out different ways to gather the data and slice it, and then produce all these different tabs and reports. And so it was an immediate impact to our business and our analysts to be able to no longer have to spend that manual time rebuilding these. Throughout our close process, sometimes new journal entries might be posted, or the data might change, and then they were having to rebuild them all over again. And so in this case, now they can just rerun their report collection and see the impact of any new accounting changes or forecast changes that occurred. We also enabled dynamic commentary. And the reason for this is a relatively new feature. It was started in summer of 2020 release. I was a part of initial versions and demos of it in years past in my prior implementations, because we all do this thing in finance, where we write comments and my monthly variances, flex analysis. We all give information back either to our shareholders, our budget users, or to internal to our team to communicate what's going on. And so often, we'll have to export our Excel and our report, and then we type those in. The nice feature about dynamic commentary is it really became a place where we're essentially storing those comments. And as a result, it's going to reduce a lot of our reporting time. You have access to those historical comments and then you have a ability to collaborate back and forth. And so again, going back to this kind of theme of design, create, enable. As we enable the dynamic commentary, we were immediately able to educate our team and start standardizing those comments, but really building collaboration and seeing people engage with it. What that looks like is within a standard report, any intersection of dimensions and data, you can then write a comment too. You can tag others with it. So in this example, on the screen, what's this variance due to? And then you're able to reply to it in a threaded conversation. It will send an email to the person that you tag and then they can reply. You can then highlight the comment that you want, and make that visible as a column off to the right, the month to date commentary, and then make it visible into that report. So we use it two ways, as a month to date commentary, or also to expedite how reviews occur instead of double clicking into the transactions and trying to figure out what that$ 10, 000 is from all the transactional detail. We might also just add a comment and explain it within the comment and make it a quicker explanation for somebody, a budget owner to look at what's driving that actuals. So some of the quick feedback from our team. As we rolled this out and implemented this, it's saving us a lot of time. The amount of manual work that was being done every month to recreate these reports, and to copy and paste comments between reports. Overall, everybody felt that it was very easy to use. Our adoption rate was very quick, we have all of our team now using it and understanding it. No longer do we have to search for old comments, we can rerun it, change it back to June or July and rerun our entire package on an aggregated level, and burst out large report sets and see all of that information together. So overall, our organizational impact, we got to very quickly a single source of truth. The reports that are run out of our system are what we review, it's what we present to our leadership and it's what we validate too. We're able to permission our system, so that now we have both operational and finance and accounting within the same system, viewing what they have access to and what they should be focused on. We're doing several comparisons real time, we're building forecasts, we're comparing those forecasts to actuals, to our budget and at a click of a button able to really see the differences that are occurring. We got our team out of Excel. There's a great place for Excel, and Excel is a powerful tool, but for some of these very structured standard reporting for report gathering, report bursting, we wanted to make them as automated as possible, so that everybody within our organization could spend more time doing analysis of their business rather than manual creation of these reports. And as a result of that, we also know now that when you run it, it is not a dated file, it's a real time, the latest information that is available. Now, real time reporting is critical because we're now able to then share that with our business customers a lot quicker, they have a stronger ability to get in and see that information and be a part of the process, or drill through and see the transactional GL level information that really they're the owners of that data. And so through that process, in a very short amount of time, we found our quick wins and really focused our energy on getting reporting stood up. Once we had that reporting stood up, then we transitioned on to how we could do other things like forecasting or modeling. But we really wanted to find some of those quick wins both to demonstrate to our team internally, and our broader operational team, how it would be possible to make this data better available to them. And with that, I'll open up to any questions that people have. I'd love to give any feedback or questions. We also have another presentation that Stacy Brown from UHY Consulting, and I shared about how to do dynamic commentary. And so you can watch on the Perform session after this, if you want to learn more about how to enable dynamic commentary and how to go about the step by step process. It's really a pretty quick thing to do, it takes less than 10 minutes to build it into a report. And the power that we've seen organizationally of gathering those comments in a standard place has been pretty impactful. All right. Thank you.

Ed: Cool. So audience, you're probably hearing the voice of God. This is Ed in marketing, again. Noah, I'm actually just scanning. We've had people hop in and out through the presentation, not surprising. It's the second day and there's a lot of great content out there. So just a quick reminder to the 45 or 50 or so folks, if you've got a question, now's a great time to pop it in. In the meantime, I've got just a handful of things Noah, that I think we can use to start the conversation that I think flesh out your story. A couple of quick ones, how large is the finance team that you work with?

Noah Pieper: We have a four person FP and A team that is all relatively new to our company. And so we're all jumping into Planful very quickly, and learning the tool, and adapting to it and building within it. Our broader accounting and finance team is over 20, 25 people. And we have them all in the tool and they're all learning it as well.

Ed: That makes sense. And then just rough count of the business stakeholders and other entities that you need to work with?

Noah Pieper: Yeah. So we're now presenting this information to our executive team. They're also starting to learn and be engaged in the tool, and then we have all of our divisional, operational folks. So field level, they're in the tool, they've learned pretty quickly how to run reports and also get in, and run, and update their forecast. And so we've decentralized a lot of that process right now, where they co- work with their finance partner, but we really have engaged with them to be a part of the process, which is something that they didn't have before, they mostly were provided the information, or provided the information at an aggregate level. And now they're much more involved with that process.

Ed: No, that's exciting, because I think many of us in finance and accounting will remember that a lot of times it's also conditioning your partners and your stakeholders on how you will serve based on the questions that they need answered.

Noah Pieper: Exactly.

Ed: Which plays into a three week timeline, right?

Noah Pieper: Yeah.

Ed: So clearly you've trained them and trained trainers really, really well.

Noah Pieper: Yep.

Ed: Some high level ones. And then we'll hit the threads. Just what advice would you give yourself as you're thinking back on this implementation or even prior implementations to maybe make it even more successful?

Noah Pieper: Yeah. Great question. Going back to one of my earlier slides, it's really critical to design as much upfront as possible, and understand your data and your data structure of what you want to get out of it. I know with my first implementation, we didn't know what was possible, and it did take a little bit to get our fundamentals and our understanding. Each time through that process, you really learn more of how you want to do it and how you want to train, train the trainer, as well as train your audience. I feel that there's a big part of my role, as well as our organization's role within finance to both teach our business operations team, the data that they're looking at, how they're running their business and how to engage with it. And with a tool like Planful, we've been able to do that. We've been able to engage them on that type of training, so that they understand their business better than they did six months ago, or a year ago, and through that process.

Ed: No, that makes perfect sense. Some specifics from Grace." At what level within your location hierarchy, do you plan or forecast?"

Noah Pieper: We plan it at a bottoms up. So within Planful, we do bring in all 700 locations as budget entities and roll a process. We use simulation engines at night to run a series of templates every every day. And so, we do a bottoms up forecasting at a GL level, that rolls our forecast forward and it allows to slice our data that way. If I didn't plan at the lowest level of information, I wouldn't be able to answer some of my executive level questions about, is that an acquisition or de novo? Or what year was that planned? And so we've had this debate a few times within my organization of," Could we roll it up and plan at a higher a level?" And knowing your audience and knowing what questions and reviews are going to be asked, is critical to know then what level to plan at. With a tool like Planful, we're able to plan at the lowest level and then really be able to build it up so that we can add value and answer those questions for our leadership.

Ed: Fabulous. And then just to flesh this line of thinking out a little bit more, your finance team is, your FP and A team, excuse me, includes four people. Are you part of that count?

Noah Pieper: I am. Yes.

Ed: Wow. So, that is an incredibly lean team. And are you soliciting feedback through the process, through the execution from your operations and other partners or stakeholders?

Noah Pieper: Yes. Great question. We are. As we set up and design the tool and started rolling it out to the field, both in training of them, and then asking them what information would be most valuable to them. So even throughout this process, we've now set up new reports and new designs of reports that can help them look at their business throughout the month. We bring in our KPI data nightly, and so they're able to see for the first time really, real time information coming in, what visits were done by location, by clinician type on a daily basis? And that's something that they weren't able to see before. And then how does that compare in month relative to what they had forecasted for that month? And then if there's a variance that's occurring, it can then make a in month corrective action to help change that. And that's a operational change and something that we're trying to enable our operators and our ops team out in the field to feel more empowered in month with that data. So we're getting that feedback and seeing that cycle a lot more. They run, as most operations will off more KPIs. And so educating them both on their KPI information, as well as operating on their financials and the impacts between the two.

Ed: Got it. So the attendance to the session has just about doubled since I last checked. There's still some other questions popping in. Curious, who was your integration partner?

Noah Pieper: We used UHY Consulting. inaudible

Ed: And the follow up here from Grace is," All of this great work that you're doing with your team, with the business, with other stakeholders, are you doing this mostly in structured planning, dynamic planning, or other components of the Planful platform?

Noah Pieper: Yeah. Great question. So since going our environment live March 8th, we have implemented reporting, structured reporting. We're doing our planning within structured planning. So we have a variety of templates that we use to assign against those 700 locations. We use workforce planning, we use Spotlight Excel to do most of our executive level reporting. We use a lot of calculated measures and a lot of MDX calculations, bringing in statistical information, both from our data warehouse, as well as directly from NetSuite.

Ed: Cool. And for the audience's benefit, an MDX calculation is?

Noah Pieper: And that'd be a question almost for you guys.

Ed: Yes.

Noah Pieper: MDX calculation, the way that we use it is taking different dimensions and applying calculations to them. So you can make your own calculation, or cross calculate between different dimensions. An example of how we've done that, let's see a good example. It might be as simple as saying," What's my margin costs?" And making a calculation that says," My revenue divided by my cost of sales will give me a margin." And so getting to a point where there's a calculation associated to something, rather than just rolling things up.

Ed: Yeah. No, it's a little bit like a hot key through the process.

Noah Pieper: Yep.

Ed: And sorry, it's just better because you've got the stage.

Noah Pieper: Yeah.

Ed: And it's always more fun to hear it from a customer.

Noah Pieper: Yep.

Ed: I think a great way to wrap this session would be to get some of your final thoughts, because it's clear that you've rolled out a lot of stuff in three weeks. It's also clear that you've generated a ton of time savings and efficient, because you're here at our conference hanging out with us. What would you say is maybe an unexpected delighter for the finance team and for your stakeholders through this process?

Noah Pieper: Yeah. That's great. I think I'll start with the stakeholders, and I think unexpected delight is just their ability to get in and see their own transactional data and feel a part of the process for the first time, And really being directly engaged with that. For our delight, we've changed the way our P and L rolls up, which is a very different from how NetSuite rolls it up and how we report out on it. And through Planful, we've been able to make those calculations and run a new income statement in a very complex way that we weren't able to do within our own general ledger system. And so that's been a fantastic win, and I wouldn't say surprise because we knew it was possible, it was just more of, we have a new way to report, our other system can't do it. We would typically take that out and do it in an Excel and we've been able to do it within the tool.

Ed: Great. So I'll take one last tactical question from Gene, and then I've got a wrap up question for you. So Gene is wondering," How many ERP systems do you use to pull in your data?

Noah Pieper: We current have one ERP, we use NetSuite. As we make acquisitions, we still take that data and load it into NetSuite. And so we have multiple ERPs going with our acquisitions, but we always pull it in. So we're not using consolidations at this time.

Ed: Great. And I think to bring us around the horn here, basically, what's next? Right? You you've delivered a lot in three weeks. Clearly there's another three week sprint or horizon coming up, because you've set that expectation. I'm curious what you guys are trying to do next.

Noah Pieper: Yeah, really our goal is to start getting into dynamic planning. And so we want to start using some of that modeling functionality and bringing in from our data warehouse that transactional visit volume data, so that we can now look at things like our payers and our payer mixes or providers, and calculate it at a different level of granularity, so that if we were to have a payer change or a rate change somewhere, what would be that impact to our business based on the volume with that provider and being able to run that model through much more quickly?

Ed: No, that makes sense. I mean, looking at deal sizes and the drivers underneath them, and profit seeking versus volume are always questions.

Noah Pieper: Yep.

Ed: But Noah, thank you so much for your time. And thank you. Are your just sage advice on how people can get started and generate momentum quickly.

Noah Pieper: Yep.

Ed: We look forward to having you back at Perform 2022 and hearing where the story has gone.

Noah Pieper: Great. Thank you. And for anybody out there, feel free to reach out to me either via LinkedIn, or directly to my email. I'm happy to answer any questions for folks, and how it's impacted our organization. Thank you.

Ed: Cool. Cheers.( silence)


LifeStance Health had to modernize budgeting and reporting to keep up with the speed and demands for increased visibility from the business. But, fears of a long and expensive transition kept them stuck in spreadsheets. Hear Noah Pieper, Director of FP&A, describe how the company quickly moved to Planful for budgeting and reporting in weeks, and transitioned, in under one quarter, to full forecasting and reporting for better visibility across the business .