Management by exception

Management by exception is the practice of examining the financial and operational results of a business, and only bringing issues to the attention of management if results represent substantial differences from the budgeted or expected amount. For example, the company controller may be required to notify management of those expenses that are the greater of $10,000 or 20% higher than expected.

The purpose of the management by exception concept is to only bother management with the most important variances from the planned direction or results of the business. Managers will presumably spend more time attending to and correcting these larger variances. The concept can be fine-tuned, so that smaller variances are brought to the attention of lower-level managers, while a massive variance is reported straight to senior management.

Advantages of Management by Exception

There are several valid reasons for using this technique. They are:

  • It reduces the amount of financial and operational results that management must review, which is a more efficient use of their time.

  • The report writer linked to the accounting system can be set to automatically print reports at stated intervals that contain the predetermined exception levels, which is a minimally-invasive reporting approach.

  • This method allows employees to follow their own approaches to achieving the results mandated in the company's budget. Management will only step in if exception conditions exist.

  • The company's auditors will make inquiries about large exceptions as part of their annual audit activities, so management should investigate these issues in advance of the audit.

Disadvantages of Management by Exception

There are several issues with the management by exception concept, which are:

  • This concept is based on the existence of a budget against which actual results are compared. If the budget was not well formulated, there may be a large number of variances, many of which are irrelevant, and which will waste the time of anyone investigating them.

  • The concept requires the use of financial analysts who prepare variance summaries and present this information to management. Thus, an extra layer of corporate overhead is required to make the concept function properly. Also, an incompetent analyst might not recognize a potentially serious issue, and will not bring it to the attention of management.

  • This concept is based on the command-and-control system, where conditions are monitored and decisions made by a central group of senior managers. You could instead have a decentralized organizational structure, where local managers can monitor conditions on a daily basis, and so do not need an exception reporting system.

  • The concept assumes that only managers can correct variances. If a business were instead structured so that front line employees could deal with most variances as soon as they arise, there would be little need for management by exception.

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