My model building experience in Anaplan, featuring Colin Dowda

edited January 2023 in Blog


Over the past two years of model building in Anaplan, I’ve worked on SPM, ICM, FP&A, higher ed (enrollment), and supply chain use cases. I’ve worked with clients in healthcare, consumer goods, education, and tech, successfully standing up solutions for complex (and simple) problems.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t had “failures” along the way. I’ve struggled with circular issues. I toasted a 400 GB model because I forgot to change the data type. I’ve accidentally taken a production model offline after syncing changes. I’ve been through it all!

Anaplan is a complex tool, and there’s beauty in that. All of us working in this field are good at breaking down problems and working with logic. We all get that wonderful feeling of relief, pride, and exhaustion once we figure out why a number wasn’t pulling through. Nevertheless, if you’re anything like me, you believe there’s always room for improvement.

Here are my four biggest takeaways after two years with Anaplan.

  1. Don’t hide your gaps in knowledge.
    Allow yourself to make mistakes. Allow yourself to be vulnerable about making mistakes and be easy on yourself. Early on, I often felt stupid. I felt like I didn’t know what I was supposed to know, so I would take shortcuts and do things halfway just to give the impression that I was competent. Please don’t do this. In hindsight, it backfired more than anything else and led to more mistakes.
    If you don’t know something, tell someone. If you feel like you’ve asked too many questions lately — no, you haven’t! Remember, we all started at zero with Anaplan. We all know how that felt. If you can put the quality of the model and the future success of the client ahead of your pride — it will make you better. Any good leader will commend you for it.
  2. Make your model extra auditable.
    Put 10% more effort here and it will make a huge difference. It’s not the most exciting part of what we do, nor does it always feel like the biggest priority, but if you do your due diligence it will pay off immensely for both the client and any future model builders.
    Make sure your modules, lists, and actions are organized. Use consistent naming conventions. Save default files for .csv loads. Use systems modules and do regular cleans of the model to get rid of unwanted line items, actions, etc. Anyone who has been in this practice for more than a year has likely had to hop into a messy model, and there’s nothing more frustrating.
    Let’s help each other out and make our models extra auditable. It’s a point of pride for me, and hopefully, it can become one for all of us.
  3. Spend the time to understand UX.
    Our job is not to simply build on the back end, then figure out UX later. Our job is to imagine the final product and build towards that vision. Anaplan’s new UX makes a huge difference for end users, so it’s important to understand it to deliver the best product:
    1. Be aware of how changes on the back end will affect your UX. (i.e., in Custom Views, select which line items to show, so that if you add a staging line item on the back end, it won’t show up for the end user).
    2. Color matters. Layout matters. Consistency across UX pages matters.
      1. Too much color is distracting, but not enough is sterile. Find balance.
      2. Make sure all your pages follow a similar layout. (i.e. use the same color and text size for the same functions across pages — such as small red for instructions, and big blue for titles, etc.) It’s important that the end users have a consistent experience.
      3. Make it easy on the user. Put the most important information in the top left (users read a computer like they read a book from top left to bottom right), don’t add cards that require a lot of scrolling, and make your instructions clear and concise.   
    3. Familiarize yourself with the different UX functionality. Sometimes a grid, a form, and a KPI can perform the same general function, but which one works best for this situation? Play around.
  4. Try different things.
    If you’ve always done something a certain way, try it a different way next time. People often stick to a choice arbitrarily, simply because it was the first choice made. It’s always better to try new things, even if they fail.
    We have inherent perfectionist tendencies behind what we do. We want the client to be happy, and we forget that we are also on a journey ourselves. Ask your SA, “What’s another way we could do this?” Ask your model builder, “How have you seen other SAs approach this?” Regardless of our experience level, we’ve all seen different models, worked with various clients, and learned from (and with) different people.
    Everyone has something valuable to contribute, so try new things and most importantly, be willing to fail. We all grow faster this way and we’ll all make better products.  

Working in Anaplan has been a really great job for me. I love that it keeps me guessing and allows me to use my entire brain. I love solving problems and working with smart people. I love that we have a community that’s dedicated to helping one another. I’m excited to see how this community grows, and I’m excited to grow with it.  

Share in the comments — what are some of your key takeaways in your work with Anaplan?



  • Great article. Definitely agree with trying to make things more auditable, wherever possible I try to break things up into simple steps (space permitting). One of my key takeaways from the last year or so is the importance of calculating once and referencing many times, and avoiding 'daisy-chaining'. 

  • Great article! I will share it with my aspiring Model Builders, thanks!