Mention has already been made about embarking on shift pattern design without some goal about what it is you want it to do, or at the least have some idea. If you don’t, you are destined to ‘endless tinkering’ – though you might get lucky.
First, why do we have shift patterns, and what do they do. What is their function, their purpose. Well we use shift patterns to help us structure and control a staff supply, usually over extended or 24 hour working. How boring! – anyway HR do all that stuff. Well actually they don’t. In fact many businesses don’t have anyone doing it. That is why so many wander in the wilderness of rapidly diminishing returns, inhabited by ‘workforce review teams’ battling to configure performance matrices, talent management, performance working parties, succession planners, and those skilled in the black art of ’management by template’ and post event rationalization.
The first goal is to decide whether you want a flat or variable staff supply. These are the only two options (OK three if you combine them):
• Flat staff supply is usually needed in manufacturing, production, or wherever a process is driven by the capacity of a machine to make things. And we all know machines can just go on, and on, and on – but people can’t. A flat supply is also needed when a service is too important to risk a breakdown in staff supply when a demand for it occurs – however unlikely or infrequent. A good example would be firefighters. They don’t know when a fire is going to break out, but when it does first response has to be fast and effective.
• Variable staff supply is usually needed when people are dealing with people. Demand fluctuates over a time range depending on what people are doing or what services they want. If there is no demand then staff go home and return back to work when the demand picks up. Retail is a good example, healthcare another and just about anything where demand is based on past experience of consumer habits. In a world of 6.5Bn people the demand curve is predictable and claims about uniqueness is overstated.
You may hear someone talk about staff supply demand match (SSDM) analysis. And what they are talking about is matching the numbers of staff to do the workload. Years’ ago it was called ‘Time and Motion’. If you bear in mind “there is nothing new under the sun…” you will find it less intimidating and be able to work out you do not use a variable shift pattern to deliver a flat supply and visa-verse.