Variance Analysis

Analysis of the difference between planned and actual numbers

What is Variance Analysis?

Variance analysis can be summarized as an analysis of the difference between planned and actual numbers. The sum of all variances gives information on the over-applied or under-applied values for the company’s reporting period. For each individual variance, companies often like to determine its favorability by comparing actual costs and standard costs and applying logic. For example, if the actual price is lower than the standard price for materials, assuming the same volume of materials, it would lead to a favorable price variance. However, if the standard quantity was 10,000 pieces of material and 15,000 pieces were actually used in production, this would be an unfavorable quantity variance because more materials were used than anticipated. The same logic applies to labor and overhead variances.

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The Role of Variance

When standards are compared to actual performance numbers, the difference is what we call a “variance.” Variances are computed for both the price and quantity of materials, labor and variable overhead, and reported to management. However, not all variances are important. Management should only pay attention to those that are unusual or particularly significant. Often, by analyzing these variances, companies use the information to put the blame on someone so he/she takes responsibility for his/her actions. The role of variance analysis, however, is more about searching for the problem so that it can be fixed and to improve overall company performance.


Types of Variances

As mentioned above, materials, labor, and variable overhead consist of price and quantity/efficiency variances. Fixed overhead, however, includes a volume variance and a budget variance.



Variance Analysis


Learn variance analysis step by step in CFI’s budgeting & forecasting course.


The Column Method for Variance Analysis

When calculating for variances, the simplest way is to follow the column method and input all the relevant information. This method is best shown through the example below:


XYZ Company produces gadgets. Overhead is applied to products on the basis of direct labor hours. The denominator level of activity is 4,030 hours. The company’s standard cost card is below:


Direct materials: 6 pieces per gadget at $0.50 per piece

Direct labor: 1.3 hours per gadget at $8 per hour

Variable manufacturing overhead: 1.3 hours per gadget at $4 per hour

Fixed manufacturing overhead: 1.3 hours per gadget at $6 per hour


During January, the company produced 3,000 gadgets. The fixed overhead expense budget was $24,180. Actual costs in January were as follows:


Direct materials: 25,000 pieces purchased at a cost of $0.48 per piece

Direct labor: 4,000 hours were worked at a cost of $36,000

Variable manufacturing overhead: Actual cost was $17,000

Fixed manufacturing overhead: Actual cost was $25,000


Materials Variance


Materials Variance Analysis


Adding these two variables together, we get an overall variance of $3,000 (unfavorable). This means that this is a variance that management should look at and seek to improve. Although price variance is favorable, management may want to consider why the company needs more materials than the standard of 18,000 pieces. This may be due to the company acquiring defective materials or having problems/malfunctions with machinery.


Labor Variance


Labor Variance Analysis


Adding the two variables together, we get an overall variance of $4,800 (Unfavorable). This is another variance that management should look at. Management should address why the actual labor price is a dollar higher than the standard and why 1,000 more hours are required for production. The same column method can also be applied to variable overhead costs and is similar to the labor format because variable overhead is applied based on labor hours in this example.


Learn variance analysis step by step in CFI’s budgeting & forecasting course.


Fixed Overhead Variance


Fixed Overhead Variance Analysis


Adding the budget variance and volume variance, we get a total unfavorable variance of $1,600. Once again, this is something that management may want to look at.


The Role of Standards in Variance Analysis

In cost accounting, a standard is a benchmark or a “norm” used in measuring performance. In many organizations, standards are set for both the cost and quantity of materials, labor, and overhead needed to produce goods or provide services. Quantity standards indicate how much labor (i.e., in hours) or materials (i.e., in kilograms) should be used in manufacturing a unit of a product while cost standards indicate what the actual cost of the labor hour or material should be. Standards, in essence, are estimated prices or quantities that a company will incur.


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