Conditional Formatting: Does Your Planning and Scheduling Solution Speak Your Visual Lingo?

For many Planners and Schedulers with whom I’ve worked over the years, adopting new technology is both thrilling, and at times, potentially nerve-wracking. On the one hand, most maintenance Planners and Schedulers are fed up with the clunky solutions and workarounds they’ve been stuck with for years. On the other hand, some of their processes, indicators of where the work order exists in the work order process, and familiar outputs are deeply embedded in the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling department – and it would be terrible to lose all that.

It reminds me of the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

A great example of this in action are the conditional formatting systems Planners and Schedulers use.

More than just color coding: it’s a language

Conditional formatting is the act of setting formulas or criteria that will change the appearance of cells or rows. Most people are familiar with conditional formatting in Excel. Maybe at your organization, Priority 1, emergency work orders are highlighted in red. Or completed work orders are crossed out. That type of thing.

Though on the surface conditional formatting seems simple, it is hugely beneficial in many scenarios. It’s a visual cue that conveys information much more quickly than reading it. Using colors, bold, italics and other options, you can understand your data at a glance, spot variances quickly and turn the complex analysis of multiple columns into tasks that can be completed efficiently.

Whatever the formulas or criteria may be, often, the legend of these formatting rules becomes sacred at an organization. The mantra is: Learn it. Use it. Don’t mess with it.  

And it’s easy to see why: having a consistent, repeatable legend used by everyone enables standard communication, reduces human error, and improves strategic decision-making.

The biggest advantage of conditional formatting

But most importantly, conditional formatting saves time. If a picture says a thousand words, then conditional formatting can speak volumes too – sparing the need for additional columns in your view. This may not seem like a big deal to some folks, but to Planners and Schedulers, it’s vital.  

Let’s say a work order has a priority 1 and that equates to an emergency work order. You could easily display a column for the priority, but you could also have the font turn red for all priority 1 WOs. That’s a pretty simple scenario, but the red font will draw attention to these work orders, ensuring they don’t get lost in the shuffle.

But what about a more complex scenario?  Perhaps your next “highest priority work” is any work order that has a Priority 2, a regulatory critical flag, and a Finish No Later Than Date within five days from today’s date.  Comparing all three of those data elements while doing date math takes more time and effort, whereas seeing those rows with a font color of orange could exponentially make that evaluation easier.

Do your Planning and Scheduling tools allow for conditional formatting?

All that being said, it’s no wonder that many Enterprise Maintenance Planners and Schedulers worry that they will lose their color-coding and formatting when they adopt new technology. Many have been managing this in Excel for years – if not decades – and the thought of losing that clear, consistent visual “language” is rightly concerning.

So, I have a simple question for you: can your Planning and Scheduling solution match your conditional formatting?

  • If you want emergency WOs to be red, can they be red?
  • If you want completed WOs to be strikethrough, can they be strikethrough?
  • If you want interrupts to be bold, can they be bold?
  • And so on.

Unfortunately, for a lot of solutions out there, the answer is “no”. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it kind of scenario, where you’re expected to conform to the software, not the other way around.

Thankfully, AKWIRE [now part of Prometheus Planning & Scheduling] can handle all your programmatic conditional formatting needs – and when we say all, we mean it. (Well, we haven’t been stumped yet, at least.)

We’ve had clients push this far – sometimes with 10 or more criteria changing several different conditions in a single schedule.

We had one client whose team relied on detailed spreadsheet of the visual language at their organization. If, for example, they had a PM, and it was scheduled for tomorrow, and it required a permit – well, that was yellow with bold text. If it was in progress, it was green. They had 17 different scenarios and options and everyone at the company knew it, understood it, and used it. These complex scenarios and algorithms presented a ton of information visually – eliminating the need for what would have needed numerous columns and manual comparisons otherwise.

This was the legend everyone was used to. It was ingrained in the company culture and it made their work more efficient and effective. And I’m happy to say we were able to reproduce every single one of their scenarios in Prometheus Routine Maintenance.

And – in case you were wondering – with Prometheus, at the touch of a button, you can export it all to Excel and preserve that formatting 100%. You can see that in action here

Planning and Scheduling tools that work the way you do

No Planner or Scheduler wants to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice the best practices that work for them for the sake of their Planning and Scheduling solution. Your Planning and Scheduling tools should be designed with you in mind – and should be configurable to your needs.

Done right, conditional formatting can save Planners and Schedulers tons of time and hassle, reduce human error, improve decision-making, and free up precious real estate on the screen. It just makes sense that your Planning and Scheduling tools should be able to accommodate the visual “language” of your organization. Like I said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!