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Can Your Scheduling Handle the Universe of Special Assignments? It’s More Important Than Ever

Jeff Duce, Senior Manager of Product Management

From pencil, paper and the expertise of the person writing the schedule to sophisticated scheduling technology, scheduling systems have come a long way. But the purpose has always been the same—to put the right people in the right place at the right time. Advanced scheduling systems allow the consideration of many factors, and the best of them can schedule “Special Assignments.” In this post, I will explain what “Special Assignments” are, why the ability to schedule special assignments is important, provide some common examples and discuss why special assignment compliance reporting is crucial.

What are special assignments?

“Special assignments” as I am using the term means scheduling a person because they have unique skills or certifications that fulfill requirements that are in addition to performing usual job or task duties. Historically, scheduled jobs or tasks are things like stocking in grocery, wrapping in the meat department, or clerking in the deli. Special assignment skills are different. Stores almost always have other considerations that need to be incorporated into the schedule. These considerations create no dedicated or scheduled hours but must be taken into account to assure that properly qualified associates are available to provide double duty—that is for both their task work and the special skills, qualifications or certifications.

Let me give a real-life example to help you better understand the idea behind special assignments. It is very common for retailers to have a policy where at least one person that is CPR certified be available on-premises during store open hours. This may be increased to two CPR certified associates during peak times. It makes more sense to have a smart scheduling system automatically schedule trained associates to the specific requirement at the same time task work is assigned versus having to edit a schedule and manually add associates with this qualification or skill at the times needed.

How to schedule special assignments

What is required in a scheduling system to accommodate special assignments? Each special assignment—the specific skill, qualification or certification—must be identified. Those attributes also must be present on the profile of qualified employees so the system can identify the proper candidates. Additional functionality may be useful to ensure the special assignment rotates among qualified associates rather than selecting the same person each time or to select the most qualified associate using skill ratings.

Initially an administrator would need to specify the associates meeting the requirement. Next the store or departments that have such a special assignment would be configured. Additional configuration would include timing—what days of the week, what times of the day—the number of associates required at the identified times, whether the assignment is to be rotated among associates and, finally, if necessary, an effective date.

Reporting on special assignments

Simply scheduling someone to perform a special assignment does not mean someone was actually on the clock for the scheduled times. It is critical that leaders monitor whether special assignments are actually carried out, particularly as many special assignments fulfill regulatory or policy requirements. Exception reporting is required so leadership can view whether stores are fully complying with special assignment scheduling. For example, where only one of a required two associates are scheduled or on the clock during the required time segment, there is a failure to comply and either situation should be reported as such.

The universe of special assignments

The need for special skills, qualifications and certifications arises in all forms of retail, from grocery to specialty to big box operators. I am sure you have a few ideas that come to mind that cannot be scheduled independently as a traditional job or task. The list of special assignments is almost infinite, but here are some examples for your consideration and to spark your imagination.

Manager on duty (MOD) is a very common need in retail stores. In larger stores this may be scheduled as a labor task, but in small stores this is usually an add-on responsibility. In those situations, select associates may be trained for MOD responsibilities. MODs are likely to be required to be working whenever the store is open to the public. Their MOD duties may be to carry the keys, access change, deal with customers, execute emergency procedures, and so on. The schedule must be built with MOD coverage in mind.

Another example may be a liquor license holder. Local ordinances usually require someone with a liquor license to be working on-premises while the liquor store or liquor department is open to the public. Failing to schedule such a person could result in a fine or even loss of the liquor license. In this circumstance it is certainly ideal to have a scheduling system ensure that this scheduling criteria is met.

Other candidates for special assignment scheduling might be backup customer service manager, someone who can run the front end in case the scheduled service manager is out or must be relieved during breaks and/or lunches. In a department like Deli or Service Meat, consider a lead counter clerk to ensure that among those who are scheduled is a person with leadership training capable of providing direction to other team members. Perhaps some stores have a need for a cash office key holder during the evening to access the change bank. Or there may be a need for a forklift operator at certain times.

Warning Will Robinson, warning!

Excessive use of special assignments will constrain the scheduling system’s ability to optimize the scheduling of task requirements and may drive more overs and shorts. This is a legitimate concern so be warned. Systems must have qualified employees configured and available to perform the work to fulfill your assignments. It cannot schedule when no one has the availability or skill.

Having the ability to schedule special assignments really is an important new tool within scheduling, and I am sure you can see the practical need for it. Because there is an underlying complication to trying to manually schedule special assignments yourself, you can see why it is so important to have this functionality built within the scheduling system. If your current scheduling system has it, that is great for you and your company. If your current scheduling system does not provide this feature, well then, I guess you are simply “Lost in Space.”

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