Scheduling Insights: Basics of Scheduling

Dan Bursik
Vice President of Product Management

How difficult can it be to plan to preposition the resources in advance of when you need them? Well, as many labor managers and schedule writers know from experience that depends.

The Scheduling Insights series of blogs will explore issues relating to effective scheduling and allow you to reflect on some of the approaches and strategies learned over years of experience that can help you write better schedules, especially with the help of automated scheduling software. I will start with basic concepts around different scheduling needs, suggest some of the pitfalls to avoid with systems, and help you get to know some of the features and functions you want to have working for you in a top-notch scheduling solution.

Let’s start by thinking about what scheduling is all about: prepositioning your resources that meet the needs of your business, company or activity in advance. It is likely that most people think about scheduling people, and that’s often what those doing scheduling are asked to do. But not always. There are many different types of scheduling. Sometimes you are scheduling people, but sometimes the task of scheduling resources is equally important. Have you ever been scheduled to attend a meeting, and no one scheduled a projector – or a room to conduct the meeting in? How well would it work to schedule a train crew without scheduling power (the locomotive) to move their load? Or scheduling a hospital crew without representing all the technical skills and specializations needed to cover the work?

Scheduling is often perceived to be the process of deciding who gets what shift, or whether Tom or Ken or Aimee or Marty or Jane or Betsy get that prized morning shift. The task of scheduling is more about understanding the job to be done, the resources required, and having a process to develop an effective plan and to match your resources to that plan. While you never want to forget that real people have needs that must be considered in the schedule writing process (like when they are available to work); it is important for good schedule writers not to focus on those concerns, but to instead focus on what needs to be done when to create the best plan to meet the needs of your customers, your business process or other key considerations. A good schedule will take those personal considerations into account as appropriate to your business rules or desires, but that comes after you create your workplan.

I always say, you cannot create a good schedule from a bad forecast, and that axiom bears repeating here. A good workplan begins with an accurate forecast of the work you are intending to service. Understanding the work content of that workload is how you translate that volume into scheduling requirements. Those requirements may be for equipment, facilities, and the skills and qualifications of the people you need to perform the activities defined by that work and by your business. That translation of forecast volume to workload to workplan all occurs before what people think of as “scheduling” but it lies at the heart of what makes for good scheduling or poor scheduling.

Never forget that good scheduling requires a good forecast. That forecast is key to defining what work your schedule needs to cover. The process of translating that workload into a workplan – up to and including your specific scheduling requirements is different depending on the type of work you are doing and the data available for forecasting.

That’s the subject of our next edition of Scheduling Insights.