Scheduling Constraint Optimization

Olufemi Olowu
Retail Consultant

To schedule optimally, retailers include many intricate parts in the scheduling process. The primary goal from a retailer’s perspective is to produce schedules that cover daily and weekly business trends, offering consistent coverage across the store. Schedules should be sensitive to employee needs and include agreed upon expectations from associates’ contracts. Writing schedules that meet retailers’ goals and associates’ needs can be challenging. On top of that, factor in customer needs while working within real-life constraints…that is a retail labor puzzle!

There are many variations to this problem. Whatever scheduling software is used must be flexible enough to effectively schedule associates according to existing human resource necessities. One very important component to scheduling is employee constraints, including employee availability, work rules, associate certifications, state laws and more. This blog discusses these constraints to gain clarity on satisfying leaders, employees and customers in the process of scheduling.

Constraint Examples
Let’s review an illustration. Work rules are constraints set within the retail space for a variety of reasons; one in particular governs how minors are scheduled. Minors in this context is a category for employees below the age of 18. Minors can be further divided into age groups (e.g., 14-15, 16-17, etc.) based on an organization’s policies. When a company employs minors, they must ensure not to violate any state rules in the process of solving the scheduling puzzle. It is advantageous to have leadership’s support, as well as the appropriate technology, to generate schedules that prioritize customer service and minor needs.

A second constraint example includes work rules governing full and part-time employees. Full-time employees are guaranteed a certain number of weekly hours. Part-time associates, on the other hand, are ensured a range of hours that may fluctuate with the business. In the simplest of systems, full-time employees are scheduled first to take care of high-traffic time intervals. Then, part-time associates are scheduled to fill the remaining requirements. With this approach, it is not surprising that retailers will likely run into conflicts where business, associate and customer needs clash.

A more dynamic approach to scheduling can meet work rule constraints while meeting the needs of customers through an optimized and iterative schedule building process. The right system can also handle complex rules associated with predictive scheduling requirements, meal or break rule regulations, optimization across jobs, tasks and departments, and can balance the skill levels of associates to ensure the right balance between new and experienced associates—all while meeting any financial constraints. Regulatory rules, associate skill management and financial objectives—these are all examples of constraint management that significantly differentiate the systems available on the market.

If having a system that can truly satisfy and navigate all these constraints sounds too good to be possible, then you may not have the right tools for the job. Those tools include accurate forecasting, correct positioning of your work requirements, a plan for those requirements to fulfill customer expectations, and automated, dynamic scheduling logic to match your employees with those needs with a minimal amount of wasted payroll. Couple that with sound operational know-how, and that’s a game-changer whether you are setting out to minimize labor expense or to maximize the service delivered to your customer.

It is imperative that companies choose scheduling software that manages all your constraints and meets all your business objectives.