The Benefits of Revenue Linearity

“Through improved revenue linearity and strong working capital management, we improved DSO, decreased inventories and, as a result, generated $46.8 million in positive operating cash flow, our 46th consecutive quarter of positive operating cash flow.”
Chairman and CEO Robert Hagerty, Polycom Inc.

Many companies measure revenue on a monthly basis and overlook the “flow” of revenue during the month. In some cases companies are captives of their customers as it relates to the demand curve that they place on them. We often receive promotion offers to order by . . . which are designed to improve the linear flow of revenue for the company.

In other instances, companies do not apply sufficient planning(forecasting)/control to the manufacturing process which can result in a hockey stick flow of revenue at the end of the month. This can be particularly true for build to order products versus those that are more commodity oriented.

Insufficient order backlog can also produced a non-linear revenue flow as manufacturing will produce products for potential orders that do not arrive until late in the month placing extreme demands on operations as they do final assembly, configuration and test to ship by the end of the month.

Why is linear flow necessary and valuable to the financial performance of the company?

Revenue Linearity Example: Ideally if you have a monthly revenue budget set at $1.2M and there are 20 working days in the month then a linear flow would be to deliver to finish goods and ship $60K per working day.

This example assumes that there are sufficient orders and customer approved ship dates to ship available inventory each day at a $60K rate. This linear flow allows the collection process to begin earlier than if the bulk of the $1.2M is shipped the last week of the month. Also, inventories and work-in-process can be optimized to support a $60K/day flow instead of a large “burp” the last week of the month (in some cases this could occur over a few days).

By the end of the first month or by the 15th of the next or second month a good portion of the cash from the first part of the month would be received or on its way. A non-liner flow would push many receivables out into the third month putting pressure on working capital and credit lines.

The graphic below highlights the difference in collection is a linear and non-linear revenue pattern. In the Linear example the first collections are on their way by the middle of next month and would continue to increase as the each receivable aged. In the non-Linear example we see a substantial portion of the receivables delayed and additional 15 days or more depending upon the severity of the non-linearity. The cash is delayed but demands for cash regular wages, utilities, inventory for the current month revenue still exist and would have to be paid by reserves or a draw on the credit line.

When build-to-order products are involved the scheduling and production performance are critical to produce the linear flow. Lean manufacturing methods have improved the ability of manufacturing operations to meet scheduled delivery dates that also support linear revenue flow.

In the case of Polycom above, it improved revenue linearity along with strong working capital management and produced an attractive positive operating cash flow.

What is your linear revenue strategy?

Are you taking advantage of revenue linearity to improve cash flow in your company?

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