Lessons from IBCS – Scenario Handling

In the previous blog, we looked at how consistency is important throughout a set of reports and dashboards. It helps users to understand the reports quickly and easily. Another important aspect to maintain is scenario handling; this forms the UNIFY part of IBCS’ SUCCESS formula.

Scenarios are used to represent different types of business data within a CPM environment where users are regularly comparing Actual data to Plan and Forecast.


Actual scenarios refer to ‘real’ data, i.e. things that are ‘fact’ – they have already happened. This could be previous month sales, or year to date sales.

In IBCS notation these are represented by a solid dark fill, e.g. black or dark grey. If data from the Actual Period is being compared to data from previous periods (such as Previous Year, Previous Month, etc.), then the previous periods are identified by a lighter shade, e.g. light grey.

Previous Year

The most common codes used for Actual Periods are ‘AC’ for Actual and ‘PY’ for Previous Year


Plan scenarios refer to the formal business plan for the year, i.e. the result of the formal business planning process.

These are identified by a bordered area with no fill (‘Outline’):


The most common codes used for planner periods are ‘PL’ for Plan and ‘BU’ for Budget.


Forecast scenarios refer to what is now expected based on recent performance and current market conditions. Current Forecasts are more recent than Plan data, and are identified by a dark “hatched” fill as seen below:


The most common code used for forecast periods is ‘FC’ for Forecast.

Over the course of a year there may be many forecasts, and the closer the forecast is to actual (e.g. a Full year forecast done in December should be quite accurate), the closer the hatching. The logic is that more ink = closer to actual. The title of the most recent IBCS book, “Solid, Outlined, Hatched” reflects this notation and covers the concepts in much more detail

An example of the three different scenarios can be seen below, and adopting the approach across an organisation makes the different types of data being shown instantly recognisable.

GIF showing chart changing scenario

Automatic Scenario Formatting

XLCubed’s Business Rules concept allows organisations to standardise on best-practise chart design by auto-applying the IBCS concepts to charts created by any user. By applying semantic rules to certain members in the data, the formatting will automatically change in business charts depending on the scenario (or also on the account type or period) chosen.

Using the example above, we can add in a rule for the Actual Scenario. Business rules can be added from the Business Chart dropdown menu from the XLCubed ribbon.

The following dialog box will appear and we can set the rules as follows for the Actual Scenario:

Select Insert and we can then do the same for the plan and forecast scenario. The business rules created can be seen on the ‘XLCubedBusinessRules’ Sheet, and this can be shared across the range of reports.

Manual Scenario Formatting

You can of course also apply manual formatting where required. In the chart below 2020 and 2021 are actually Forecast Months. To change the formatting of the two categories, we can simply right click on 2020 > Category > Hatched.

This then formats both the years 2020 and 2021 as forecast.

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