After reading through the review on Employee Scheduling Software TopTenREVIEWS the Schedule24 team are taking the opportunity to offer a second opinion. The TopTenREVIEWS article leaves the reader with a sense the reviewer was trying hard not give offense; and we have never understood why TopTenREVIEWS continue to ignore Schedule24 Resource Manager which offers all the features they list as “missing”, while focusing on a product they describe as “… a unique experience as far as shift scheduling goes.” OK this raises the question why do we have two “shift scheduling” products? Well the answer is simple; we solve two kinds of scheduling problem. And now the Schedule24 team are taking the opportunity to set the record straight, and along the way give the reader the benefit of deeper insight into the world of “employee scheduling”.
The employee scheduling problem will present itself in one of two ways, in fact three if we include a combination of the other two. Employee scheduling can be grouped into either unstructured or structured scheduling problems.
An example of unstructured or ill-defined employee scheduling includes arrangements where the business is totally reliant on staff availability at different times on different days. There is no defined pattern of working and days off, and both staff and manager do not know from one week to the next who will be working when – the “scheduling horizon” is way too close for managers to be other than reactive. Schedules are completed as information becomes available, and then published to provide a confirmation of a daily routine. This approach is known as ‘employee-negotiate-confirm’ scheduling.
An example of structured or well-defined employee scheduling includes arrangements where the business controls the staff supply. There is a well-defined pattern of working and days off, and both staff and manager know who will be working when, week’s months or even longer in advance – the “scheduling horizon” is far enough away for managers to be proactive. Schedules are designed and planned to provide a staff supply to deliver business goals. This approach is known as ‘employer-coordinate-control’ scheduling.
So does that mean unstructured scheduling is bad and structured scheduling is good? Well no, just that they are different and you need to recognize the difference. This enables you to choose a feature set commensurate with solving the kind of problems you want to solve. For example, there is no point spending money on features that automate employee scheduling when your employee scheduling is unstructured and incapable of being defined. On the other hand, “penny-pinching” on automation features does not make sense when ROI is achieved in a couple of weeks over “cut & paste” editing week after week. Also you may not have the workplace environment that needs employee scheduling. Business’s that operate traditional office hours with every weekend off rarely needs to schedule its full-time staff, unless perhaps when there are other factors like ‘job-sharing’ and part-time staff working is required.
However, once a business operation requires employees to work extended hours or 24/7 working then it is a different matter. A structured scheduling approach is a ‘must have’ to maintain the cohesion most business need to ensure things get done.
Generally, extended hours or 24/7 working basically requires employees to ‘take turns’ working different shifts on different days to deliver an effective staff supply. In manufacturing and production, where machinery is being used in production, the staff supply will generally need to be constant. On the other hand where there are ‘peaks and troughs’ in demand, the staff supply will generally need to be variable.
The key to both is the ‘shift pattern’, the very basis of structured scheduling. It is the shift pattern which gives rise to the phrase ‘shift scheduling’, filling the shifts in a pattern with available staff. And this may include taking account of job titles, skill sets, roles and qualifications of staff. There is a big difference between “employee schedules” and “shift patterns” they are not the same, and many use the terms interchangeably. This is important, you use “shift patterns” to give structure to employee schedules; and employee’s schedules provide information about when to turn up for work, or have a day off. One further point of interest, shift patterns are not calendar or date based whereas employee schedules are.
There are only two kinds of shift pattern, week based patterns; and sequence based patterns. There is arguably a third intelligent agent (IA) generated pattern (no not AI) which is rarely seen outside of the research lab, so it is ignored here. Everyone is familiar with the week based pattern; few are familiar with sequence based patterns which generally provide the most efficient employee schedules. Sequence based patterns are rarely encountered in spreadsheets, because we are so used to thinking in 7 day week’s; and almost non-existent where hosted web environments are concerned for the same reason.
There are only four kinds of shift arrangements:
1. Meeting – one shift finishes at the same time another starts.
2. Overlap – two shifts overlap at the start or finish.
3. Before and After – one shift starts and finishes; and gaps, before the next shift starts and finishes.
4. During – one shift starts and finishes between the start and finish times of another shift.
Bearing in mind we haven’t started on the “employee schedule” you may be wondering where all this is leading. Well these are factors that exist in the real world, certainly not in the “marketers” head, and need to be managed. You do not have to understand them, but you need to be aware about them. Here are just a few more and then we are done.
Shift patterns have four characteristics you really do need to know about, neglect any one or more of these and the workplace will go to ‘pot’, they represent the ‘DNA’ which give structure to any scheduling strategy outside the realm of random:
1. Days-on Days-off (DODO) ratio – determines weekly hours;
2. A Pattern “Stagger” either ‘forward’ or ‘backward’ – maximizes rest periods;
3. A direction of rotation or DOR – impacts the ‘body clock’; and
4. A speed of rotation or SOR – affects fatigue and ‘sleep deprivation’.
All these factors or concepts need to be managed sensibly – we will show you what we mean in a minute – so we have two kinds of Wizards that manage these factors (Wizard’s which are now ‘blisteringly’ fast, after listening to TopTenREVIEWS we did something about that freezing!). We have a Schedule wizard and a Shift Pattern wizard. If you come across a “Wizard” where you are unable to pick out these kinds of concepts, then whatever the wizard is doing it’s probably not “Employee Scheduling”. It might be making data entry or organizing your data easier, but it isn’t actually generating anything useful in terms of a schedule or shift pattern.
Without exception the other nine suspects in our line-up do not come close to offering shift patterns based on industry best practice, let alone automating them. So how can you automate “employee schedules” and not take account of these factors – in short you can’t. So how do they cope, frankly, except at the most basic and trivial “shift scheduling” level, we have no idea.
Let me take one example. The product currently awarded employee schedule software TopTenREVIEWS “Gold Award” describes a procedure for a “24/7 coverage with 12-hour recurring shifts between three Employees”. You can try it out, or read about it here.
Now you can watch and check this out this and make your own mind up:
There are significant differences. First, the shift pattern is more efficient. How do we know this. For one thing the pattern succeeds in delivering a 24/7 staff supply in a much shorter 6 day sequence, not 14 days. It also eliminates the two five day 12 hour shifts, and the three weeks to “even” the hours out. Now the hours “even” out over 6 days, and no one works more than four 12 hour shifts which is fairer. There is also a 24 hour break midway the four days of shifts in addition to two straight days off every four days. Put another way, this 6 day sequence based pattern is arguably 71% more efficient at delivering these benefits while significantly reducing the risk of sleep deprivation over much longer date ranges.
Knowing how to manage these kinds of factors can ‘save’ a business. We can leave aside whether such a shift pattern would be considered given an average 56 average hours a week in Europe isn’t generally regarded as compliant; and in the USA deep pockets will be required to compensate the overtime over the 40 hour week.
The 12 hour alternating shift pattern (technically 12 hour shifts don’t rotate) is not difficult (for our Wizards anyway) though granted more of a challenge on paper or spreadsheet until you get the ‘hang’ of it. However, when you start working with compressed weeks, 8, 10 and 12 hour shift combinations life does get even more interesting; and for real ‘fun’ try working out the ‘old’ UK public sector ‘chestnut’ of a 37.5 hour week with staff clamoring after 12 hour shifts.
Around 50% of companies ‘waste’ through up to 60% of staff costs before they start to consider “Employee Scheduling” controls. Of course that’s way too late. Put another way, take a coin out of your pocket and ‘flip’ it to work out the chance you’re working for one of those companies.
We recently reviewed a scheduling strategy, of an IT group in the Financial Sector. The Senior Management Team (SMT) couldn’t put their ‘finger on’ what they thought was wrong. A couple of Team Leaders had managed to introduce a “new” shift pattern for a small team of technicians that neither added or reduced one hour of productivity in the workplace, and yet increased staff costs by an extra $30,000 a year. It was about to be adopted by around 100 technicians’. Had they done so, before our intervention, they would have added an additional $428k to the company tab without adding one production hour of benefit to the business; or adding one hour of happiness to staff time-off.