Labor Scheduling Best Practices / Past Practices

What are the “Best Practices” (BP) for workforce scheduling? Most managers in operations and HR would like to see these documented. But what is BP?  BP is a method, process, or activity, which conventional wisdom regards as more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other method, process, etc. when applied to, in this case, labor scheduling. Ideally, BP’s are the best way of resolving scheduling issues for each employee across all shifts, departments or crews. So why even within the same facility is there so little agreement about BP’s for labor scheduling?

In reality, given today’s operating budgets and given the push-and-shove getting product out the door, finding any BP’s written down is rare. You might hear, “It’s all in the labor agreement”. Not likely. Even with a union contract, there are always side agreements that some managers may know about while others have never heard of. There are quite a few problems that workforce scheduling has to solve on a day-to-day basis that are simply not addressed by a typical labor agreement. How to schedule for surges in production or service demand, the opposite, engineering down time, employee job preferences, access to overtime, meetings, requests for time off, training and a lot more that has to be worked into the schedule every day.

When it comes time to undertake a scheduling rules analysis, Tugboat Software is typically first-on-the-beach. For documentation, we typically find a mixture of:
•    HR policies that cover hiring, firing, benefits – a great deal in fact. However they only address labor scheduling in very broad terms. They don’t address the daily volatility.
•    Payroll policies that again cover lots of bookkeeping details and include rules but also don’t address labor scheduling per se.
•    Spread sheets which may track jobs and who’s qualified to perform each.
•    In 24/7 operations something which keeps track who works days on or off
•    As mentioned, if there’s a union, a contract.

When you roll back the stone, what you find governing labor scheduling are “past practices”. “This is how we’ve done it before.” Again, these are mostly unwritten. With an automated labor scheduling project, one of the main business goals is bringing these past practices into the light of day and getting them organized. However when you run a discussion about how labor scheduling actually gets done, it isn’t long before someone says, “I didn’t know we did it that way”. Or, “That’s not the way we do it on our shift (our department)”. Converting best practice into BP is difficult without a lot of design analysis. And a big part of design analysis is getting managers to agree on which of their past practices are actually their BP.

Until you go through the real work, past practices are usually taken as BP. Unfortunately this often disguises, or justifies how scheduling rules are applied differently or unevenly from one department or shift to the next. Fortunately, there are a lot of strong reasons for investing the time and effort into a scheduling rules analysis.
•    Capturing the best institutional knowledge about hot to schedule your entire operation
•    Eliminating the game playing
•   Lowering your cost of labor
•    Reducing unneeded overtime
•    Eliminating grievances
•    Moderating the pressure on your scheduling operation
Then there’s the relief of knowing how to schedule when those skilled managers are absent.