Taking an integrated approach to work and resource management

Posted by Mark Thompson on August 24, 2015

The key objective for any field-based operation can be boiled down to a single tenet:

Do the right work

If you can do the right work, you’re winning. If you can do the right work, at the right time, with the right people, you’re not only winning – you’re leading.

The complexity is in understanding your own criteria for what constitutes the ‘right’ work; for some businesses the focus is on customer service, while others are aiming to effectively maintain and run their assets, many are trying to do both.

In our work, we often work with organisations who are concerned about the outcomes of work and resources management functions, presenting significant opportunity for improvement. The main priorities are:

  • Customer Service Levels
  • Asset Performance and Reliability
  • Cost Performance
  • Regulatory Compliance
  • …and increasingly – employee engagement

The reasons for under performance are many and varied, but we see a common set of issues:

  • Lack of forward planning of resources and work
  • Lack of early decision making regarding resources and work
  • Fragmented and conflicting work priority schemas, and when considering all work holistically, a lack of a relative priority view
  • Schedulers burdened with in-day decision making
  • Optimisation/automation features of the scheduling system have been switched off
  • Missing or poor integration with logistics
  • Scheduling/field operations operating in ‘them and us’ mode
  • Some degree of employee disengagement

It’s no wonder outcomes are not as desired!

The Blame Game

Schedulers, and indeed, the scheduling tool often become the scapegoat for poor performance, but most often this is unfair. When more work than can be achieved is thrown into the mix with inadequate prioritisation rules, and a pressing need to dispatch work as soon as possible, the schedulers and their tools are set-up to fail. Undoubtedly, improvements can and often should be made within the scheduling function, and in most cases the deployed scheduling tool needs some attention, but the root cause of issues typically resides elsewhere.

Job and workforce management, for most organisations, needs to operate over an extended time period, a move away from the somewhat traditional in-day, heroic firefighting. A mismatch between work and resources (and often any plant or material requirements) can often only be resolved by moving away from a stop-gap approach.

A skills shortage may require recruitment or training. Re-allocating resource from one area or function to another requires collaboration and agreement. Where there is a demand on third parties for consumables, materials, site access, plant or resources, lead times will apply. Where decisions are made to postpone or cancel work, mitigating action may bring its own demands. In short, all of this needs planning, with a longer term view.

Job and Workforce Management – An Integrated Process

We see job and workforce as an end-to-end integrated process, conducted over time:

Delivery Planning

Planning is a continuum. Business plans often look forward a year or more. Aligned to business objectives, delivery planning should set expectations with regard to what work should be done, and the capacity to do that work. The prime role of delivery planning, working to the expectations of the business plan, is to compare forecast work to forecast resources, and initiate actions to resolve any gap. Early decision making is key.

Tactical Planning

Tactical Planning remains focused on ensuring a balance between work and resources, but its main responsibility is scheduling of plan-able work and the management of complex jobs (where plant, materials, and contractors might be involved, for example). Again, early decision making applies. Leaving the much maligned schedulers to now focus on the here-and-now, managing exceptions, scheduling reactive work, and supporting the mobile workforce.
This can only work when there is a common set of agreed rules that planners and schedulers can work to. Critically these rules must:
  • Be aligned to business objectives (as indicated in the business plan)
  • Cover resource management
  • Encompass work prioritisation
  • Be agreed by Operations
The business objectives must be mirrored in the set-up of supporting systems, otherwise planners and schedulers will be fighting with, rather than being supported by, the technology.
And in all of this there must be solid compliance to process; schedulers are not off the hook, but then neither are planners and operational managers!
There must be a cultural shift away from the celebration of the aforementioned fire-fighter to the appreciation that a problem avoided is far more valuable than a problem solved.
Of course, making this happen is not trivial and often requires significant transformation activity. Transformation programmes are complex, and not without challenges from a variety of perspectives, but with an appropriate solution, the right approach, and a drive for success, you might just get the outcomes you want….
If you see signs that there are areas of improvement to be made in the management of your field-based workforce, think beyond the scheduling function. We believe the real opportunity lies in taking a broader view.  The old adage “fail to plan – plan to fail” is particularly pertinent to field service.
Is now the time for action?