Transform From Position to Task-Based Scheduling

Shifting Mindsets From Position Level to Labor Task Scheduling

Julie Bushee 
Retail Labor Manager

When it comes to scheduling, businesses understand the necessity of having the right people at the right place at the right time. Significant consideration is taken to budget, project and forecast labor hours. Most retailers do so at the period, weekly or daily level, with organizations scheduling by day using intricate forecasting algorithms. During my time in grocery, the greatest ROI came from forecasting hours at a labor task level. Today, I want to share how this scheduling revelation changed my perception on labor planning best practices.

In my experience, managers intend to write great schedules using the information they have available. An effective manager prioritizes forecast hours while writing a schedule; in reality, managers will often schedule according to employee position. Scheduling at a position level helps identify who is completing the work. Positions that might be scheduled include clerks, managers, night crew and more. Unfortunately, when scheduling at the position level, managers cannot identify what work is being completed and when.

It is task versus position scheduling that identifies what work requires completion by role. Examples of labor tasks are cleaning, stocking, slicing deli meat, cashiering, bagging, cutting meat, decorating cake, packaging and more. These are actions not positions. The need to complete these labor tasks within an hourly, daily or weekly timeframe is why employees are needed.

Every schedule at the labor task level should offer insight into when each task should occur and how long it should take. Conceptually, many schedulers understand the purpose behind scheduling but underestimate its complexity. The start of any well-written schedule begins with placement accuracy of labor tasks. Transparency in what task needs covered throughout the day is vital to an efficient schedule.

When I worked as a supermarket manager, I spent hours each week building schedules. I had a clear mental picture of the impending work list and the skills required for certain people to complete that work. However, in the process of building and assigning shifts, I habitually created eight-hour shifts for full-time employees and four-to-six hour shifts for part-time employees by position (e.g., department leader).

Even with a work list of tasks by position, my final schedule failed to communicate those details to my team; we could not maintain a clear understanding of what tasks took what amount of time. Task time expanded to fill the shifts I created. When it came to execute the schedule, I still needed to provide guidance to my team on task assignments and time frames based on labor standards.

Before being introduced to labor task scheduling, position scheduling made sense to me. However, my efforts to schedule by position limited my planning capacity and vision. As task-based scheduling software became available, I started scheduling tasks in 15-minute intervals; this opened my eyes to a new world of solving the scheduling puzzle.

The task-based system optimized the schedule like position-based scheduling never could. Instead of manually managing a worklist with task assignments and time frames, the system integrated the task plans into the creation of the schedule, including selecting the most qualified people to perform each task. This had the added benefit of building a better plan and sharing it with my team at the same time. They became less reliant on me for basic direction about what needed to be done, or who was assigned to do each task.

Additionally, labor task scheduling allowed me to make effective business decisions. Instead of scheduling a baker for an eight-hour shift when only five hours of baking labor needed completion, I scheduled the baker to cover the baking, then finished her remaining three hours on packaging or another task. In similar fashion, I could manage more appropriately between full and part-time employees, as well as certified versus non-certified associates.

Overall, task-based scheduling did not take away the need to manage work throughout the day, but it did allow me to schedule hours in a way that methodically covered all required work during the appropriate periods of time. I did this using employees who were qualified to complete the work. Schedules were better written in less time.

My schedules also aligned with labor standards, and my team had clarity about the tasks they were scheduled to perform without my direction. Through task-based scheduling technology, allotting the right people in the right place at the right time became a reality. Knowing what I now know, I would not think about going back to position-based scheduling.

Let me summarize this way. Would you want a construction crew to show up on your jobsite without a detailed blueprint and task plan? Do you like attending meetings where there is no shared agenda? I imagine not. Scheduling is about having qualified people show up with purpose, focusing on the assignments to complete. I see this as an extension and integration of what we could only partially do with position-based scheduling.

I hope this encourages you to reconsider your scheduling best practices. Are you at the task level?