Airtable automations not triggering when you expect them to? It might be caused by this subtle issue

There is a very subtle nuance in automations that has confused 2 different clients of mine over the last month, because their automations weren’t triggering as expected.

I thought I would outline it here, in case it helps other people in the future:

Sometimes when an automation isn’t triggering when you expect it to, that could mean that the record was changed from “one valid trigger condition” to “another valid trigger condition”.

So, for example, let’s say that you have an automation that is set to trigger when the “Project Status is either ABC or XYZ.”

However, If the Project Status is already ABC, and then you change the Project Status to XYZ, the automation won’t trigger because Airtable doesn’t see that as a change in the trigger condition.

Airtable thinks: “Well, this automation already ran when the project was ABC or XYZ. And as of right now, I’m looking at this project, and this project STILL continues to be ABC or XYZ. So absolutely nothing has changed here. It started off as ABC or XYZ, and it’s still ABC or XYZ, so I’m not going to run this automation”

In other words, Airtable doesn’t care that ABC and XYZ are 2 completely different things. Airtable looks at the conditions TOGETHER AS A GROUP, instead of looking at them AS INDIVIDUAL OPTIONS.

So if the project started off as “ABC or XYZ”, and then you change the project to “ABC or XYZ”, Airtable thinks: “Oh! This record has NEVER CHANGED AT ALL! It’s still ABC or XYZ!”

One “quick fix” for this problem is to clear out the field from “ABC” to nothing, wait a few seconds, and then change it from nothing to “XYZ”. But this is not the ideal fix for this issue, because it is a manual process and it requires a human being to remember that every single time.

Better fixes for this would be one of the following:

  1. Creating different automations — one for each condition. However, if you are already close to Airtable’s limit of 50 automations, this may not be desirable or even possible.
  2. Keeping track of the previous field value in another field, and use a combination of the 2 fields as the condition for telling Airtable whether the automation should trigger.
  3. Change the trigger to monitor the desired fields whenever they are updated at all, and then use conditionals to figure out the desired action. However, this would only really work for single-select fields and checkbox fields, due to the reasons described in this thread. Also, Airtable doesn’t let you combine conditionals & repeating actions in the same automation, so then you could turn to another option:
  4. Change the trigger to monitor the desired fields whenever they change, and then finish the automation in Make. Here’s a thread on how to instantly trigger a Make scenario from Airtable using a webhook.

I’m sure there are dozens of other ways of addressing this issue as well! :smiley: