There’s a lot of terms that get thrown around in conversation when it comes to the process of getting tasks from customers to field resources. Resource scheduling seems to be a very popular one, but in the course of just the past few weeks, I’ve also heard forecasting, planning, dispatch, and rostering (your dictionary won’t like that one).
Sometimes two or more of these words get used interchangeably and sometimes they are qualified with another descriptor e.g. ‘work scheduling’ and ‘shift scheduling’. Of all these terms used in relation to workforce management, resource ‘scheduling’ seems to be the most in vogue. The meaning of the term in today’s market, like everything else, has evolved to fit what’s currently happening with the industry.
What resource scheduling actually is
In my mind resource scheduling is, simply: the job of selecting an appointment for a task, which matches it up with some available resource, and places that task onto ‘the schedule’ for a particular day. It’s a really functional process step which provides a small opportunity for optimization of process and outcomes, by completing that activity in accordance with business rules and priorities. It’s an important element of the whole end to end process of getting a task from a customer to a field resource for completion, but it’s only one element.
However, when we talk about resource scheduling these days, we are often talking about the optimization of the resulting schedule once all the tasks have been placed on it. This is where the real focus seems to be from the perspective of software companies providing workforce management solutions and from my clients, who are looking to improve their field efficiency or customer service levels. Lots of money and effort is spent on getting the best schedule possible on the day of execution and optimizing tasks to get the best possible routes.
Despite all that focus, money, and effort, I still get clients telling me that they are not satisfied with their solution or that it is not providing the benefits that they had hoped it would. So clients call us asking what we can do to help them – “how can we make our schedules better?” or “how can we further optimize our routes?”
Invariably my answer is that they’re looking in the wrong place, or at least are not looking in all the right places.
The golden rule of workforce management
My golden rule of workforce management is – move as much effort as possible away from the day of delivery to earlier in the process. If you are expending all your effort optimizing the schedule on the day of delivery then you have likely already missed your target.
Like any process, if you put rubbish in you will get rubbish out. Focusing on the inputs to the process is far more important than focusing on the outputs. More effort devoted to scheduling and the optimization of schedules will only get you so far, the law of diminishing returns will kick-in and if you’re still feeding the process rubbish then it’s an exercise in futility anyway.
More important than optimizing the end result is optimizing the match of the manpower and workload prior to the schedule being completed. Those other terms I mentioned, which are less in vogue these days, that’s where focus and effort actually need to be applied – look at your forecasting and planning. If there is a fundamental miss-match between manpower and workload at the start of the day of delivery, no matter how good your resource scheduling optimization is, your end result will not be optimal.
Resurrecting scientific truths
The art and science of balancing manpower and workload leading up to the day of delivery is, in my experience at least, as important as optimizing the schedule on the day of delivery. It also seems to have got a little lost in recent years.
Nearly everyone has a state of the art software solution to complete their resource scheduling optimization. Ironically, it also seems that almost nobody has a real forecasting and planning process that ensures they are feeding the best possible inputs to that schedule.