TruePlanningXL is the TruePlanning/Excel interface reboot. Excel is a popular topic in the PRICE universe because Excel is clearly the most popular tool in the cost analytics quiver. Customers such as the Air Force, Army and the majority of the primary suppliers have processes inextricably based on Excel. One of the primary design goals of TruePlanningXL is for it to be as easy to use as possible. To support this, great effort is being made to study how it is used and improve TruePlanningXL’s usability based on the research.

A second primary design goal is for TruePlanningXL to be based only on the ‘shape’ of the data, and not requiring specific formatting, or GUI structures in the Excel sheets themselves. This will allow any Excel sheet to become usable by TruePlanningXL as long as some key ‘housekeeping’ data is in the right place to let TruePlanningXL know some required bits of information are found.  That said, requiring a minimal amount of data to work means that users start using TruePlanningXL by looking at an empty Excel sheet which can create confusion and anxiety. As one user put it “We’ve gone 180 degrees from too much stuff, to nothing at all”.

PRICE has confidence that once users start to use TruePlanningXL they will become very comfortable with the minimal amount of required data and focus on building Excel sheets that meet their specific needs. Getting users to that point, and avoiding a negative experience when first using TruePLanningXL is of paramount importance. While one of the design principles is minimal data on the actual sheet, helping customers through GUIs that help them set up the sheets is also a major feature of TruePlanningXL. “Select Inputs Metrics” button to the rescue!

The following dialog is the result of many iterations. The target was a dialog that helped users set up the Inputs and Metrics that they want to expose from TruePlanning in Excel in a way that is intuitive and simple. To get there PRICE needed to listen to the users. Users were asked to set up TruePlanningXL and the struggles they faced were noted so improved versions of the dialog could be created.

TruePlanningXL keeps track of the Inputs and Metrics that users want to work with, but the first time users fire up TruePlanningXL, there are no selected Inputs and Metrics and will be greeted with an empty Excel worksheet.

It is understandable why new users would feel a bit of panic when coming from a highly structured Excel solution to a blank Excel worksheet. But this is where some GUI help comes in. Clicking the “Select Input Metrics” button will launch the following dialog:

This dialog is an analog of the top rows of an Excel sheet and displays the values needed set up an Excel sheet so that it can be processed by TruePlanningXL.

Users can now add Inputs and Metrics that they select from the Tree control in the left pane of the dialog. 

Selecting an Input or metric will result in the first empty column getting the selected Input or Metric value, and having a new column added. In the screenshot below “Operating Specification” was selected. 

After “Operating Specification” was selected an additional column was added to allow for another selection. Users can select as many inputs and metrics as they would like.

The first four columns cannot be altered or moved as they are required by TruePlanningXL.

When a user selects an Input or Metric from the left pane with the tree control, the currently selected column in the Excel Headers grid at the top will be updated. This allows users change a column’s value. Users can also drag columns around by holding down the “Alt” key and dragging the desired column to a new location.

Other buttons are provided to assist users in setting up the Inputs and Metrics that they want to see:

  • Add Column: this will add a new column directly to the right of the currently selected column.
  • Select Left: this will move the selected column one column to the left.
  • Select Right: this will move the selected column one column to the right.
  • Clear Column: this will clear the contents of the currently select column.
  • Remove Column: this will remove the currently selected column and shift the currently selected column to the column immediately to the right of the removed column.
  • Update Sheet: this will clear “PBS” sheet in the Excel workbook and replace all the headers in the first two rows with the values defined in grid at the top of this GUI.

Clearing a column will result in the word “Blank” being displayed in the column that was cleared to indicated that the column has intentionally been cleared. Any column left blank will not be filled in by TruePlanningXL. This can be handy if users want to have columns that will not be updated by TruePlanningXL and mix their own data with TruePlanning data.

As seen in the screenshot below: the above configuration will result in the following Excel Worksheet. Note how column “F” is not filled in. 

Also note the first four columns. The values in these columns need be present in order for TruePlanningXL to be able to process the Excel Worksheet.

Clicking “OK” in the “Select Inputs / Metrics” dialog will close the dialog and will save the configuration of the headers. Reopening the “Select Inputs / Metrics” dialog will display the last configuration saved.

To be clear: users do not need to use the “Select Inputs / Metrics” dialog. As long as the required data is in the right place, TruePlanningXL will work. The dialog is just help to get the data into the right place. If users save a file with the data in the right place, TruePlanningXL will just use it. If users open a new Excel file and simply type in the required data they can just use TruePlanningXL.

If a user opens a project in TruePLanningXL, but the required Excel sheet is not found, with the expected data, the configuration of Inputs and Metrics will be used. So if users want to be able to just click the “Open” button in TruePlanningXL in new Excel files, they will need to set up the Inputs and Metrics in the “Select Inputs / Metrics” dialog. But once that is done, users can simply open TruePlanning projects in new Excel files and get the data they want. PRICE loves listening to its users.