Scheduling Christmas

Posted by Dave Kemp on December 17, 2015

Scheduling Santa

Well, it seems we’re scheduling Christmas again, and, of course, a Happy Christmas to you all. At Leadent we wish you all the best for the season and for the New Year. And whilst it’s a time for family, it’s also, for many of our clients, another working day as their field staff work to keep the lights on, keep the water flowing, monitor flood levels and undertake a host of often invisible work essential to us in this day and age.

 

There’s also one very special mobile workforce out there, doing a very important job, especially for those of you with children. Unusually, by our standards, he’s a mobile workforce of just one, although he still has an unbelievable number of tasks to schedule. (You can see how good he is at his job using the In Day Performance Management Dashboard provided by NORAD (http://www.noradsanta.org/). Not much white space on his Gantt, I suspect.

 

No rest for the wicked, either. So my mind (and a confession is due here – I was raised as a mathematician, and my mind will make some strange connections) played with the idea of scheduling Santa, in the sense of how well can you schedule workforces when you get some extreme scenarios (several of which are actually pertinent for a current client).

Examples might include:

  • Cases where you genuinely have only one worker. They may be a specialist, or there may be low demand for their skills, but you know that when you need them, you need them (Hi, Santa!).
  • Remote locations where local resources can’t economically be located – the Scilly Isles, or the Hebrides. It will take time to respond to call outs, and planned work needs to be really thought about in advance. (You don’t want to arrive to find the customer’s out, or the chimney is blocked).
  • Out of Hours cover.
  • Extreme weather scenarios such as the recent storms, which place huge demands on resources, and must inevitably take precedent over planned workload. Or perhaps it’s deep snow on the runway in Lapland.

 

Extreme SchedulingWhen I speak with clients, the war stories that emerge with regards to the more extreme scheduling events can often assume a life of their own, and absorb disproportionate organisational bandwidth. Especially when these situations are poorly planned for. Sure, these events are difficult to schedule, especially if they’re scheduled on the fly. But could they be better handled? Could your exception handlers be better prepared? I’d suggest they could, simply by putting a little more thought in up front. Planning is key to understanding what could happen, how likely and impactful it is, and in developing processes and plans to cope. So, some questions to ponder over your mulled wine this Christmas:

  • Can you list your extreme scheduling scenarios?
  • Do you understand how likely they are, and the impact they have if they occur?
  • Do you understand which are the war stories, and which ones you really need to prepare for?
  • Do you have the plans and processes in place to deal with the scenarios which will really cause you pain?
  • Will you pre-empt them, or react to them?
  • Does your control team consist of Schedulers or Exception Handlers?
  • Is your Field Team flexible?
  • Will your systems, people and processes cope?

 

Although there’s still plenty to think about from a scheduling perspective, its ultimately about planning. Coming back to our one man workforce, Santa spends all year planning, working with the elves to make sure all the bases are covered, to set him up for a successful delivery schedule (whatever the physics says about relativistic travel). He can’t afford to have his schedule go awry, even with last minute changes to the good and naughty lists.

 

So it’s important to think about the extreme scenarios, but also to keep them in proportion, and to have contingency plans (but always kept in the context of the risk and probability of the event).

 

Have you thought about your extreme scenarios? Does Santa have a Plan B? Maybe the Elves at Leadent can help.

 

Dave Kemp

Dave’s workforce management expertise is rivalled only by the variety of organisations that he has supported through business transformation initiatives, including many in public services. Since joining Leadent, he has worked with the Environment Agency, University College London and Transport for London, as well as many utilities to help them transform their ways of working.