3 minute read

Out of Tolerance: Exception Reporting – More Important than Ever

Jeff Duce, Senior Manager of Product Management

I have written several blog posts in the past few years concerning reporting related to labor budgeting, scheduling, time and attendance and similar concerns, but I have never specifically written about exception reporting. I think it’s time to do that, particularly because my opinion of exception reporting has changed over time. I used to believe that full reporting of data and metrics was more important than exception reporting. Now I believe exception reporting is essential to any reporting suite and process, and in fact, is much more important than full reporting. In this post, I will discuss the areas that I see as requiring exception-based reporting and why I think it is essential in today’s environment.

What is exception reporting?

Exception reporting gives the user information that reality has fallen outside preconfigured tolerations. The report should also include causes for the way things ended up, and I will explain what I mean by that later in this post.

Exception reporting should be real time. While some exceptions can be called out in standard weekly reports, some exceptions will identify essential issues that need to be addressed quickly. When you think of exceptions being reported, you may think of typical callouts like the use of too many hours, excess cost on labor, or missing data. While these things would certainly make the list of exceptions on a report, reportable exceptions should be configurable. Because preconfigured tolerances may be determined at a corporate level for all stores, exceptions could also include lower than expected hours, labor costs, or any data that is higher or lower than the variance to the average set of data.

Capabilities of exception reports?

Ideally, exceptions are highlighted in more areas than just reports. If your company has a “Brain Center” dashboard, then this is a perfect place for exceptions to be displayed. While you may not want all exceptions shown on the dashboard, all categories of exceptions should be considered and should be able to be configured to display on the dashboard to flexibly support your goals and initiatives over time.

Consider scheduling. Exceptions for scheduling might include things like over/under-scheduling of either hours or costs or both that are outside of tolerances set. An even wider scope of exceptions connected to scheduling might be what caused a schedule to be out of alignment with time increments of the expected occurrence of sales, items and customers. In fact, exceptions should show everything that contributed to a poor schedule. This could be related to poor availability, too many employees on PTO, not enough qualified associates or simply a shortage of staff.

Time and attendance exceptions are easier to think about. Typical time and attendance exceptions include missing punches or missing shifts. It also may include things like excessive overtime, excessive hours or hours and punches that don’t correlate to the schedule. There also should be exceptions in any forecasting application, exceptions in labor modeling, exceptions in standards and, of course, it always makes sense to report exceptions on data anomalies. Really, if you report on something, report the exceptions also.

At the highest level, reporting for exceptions consists of a corporate summary that may include the number of exceptions within a category. In a drill-down approach, corporate users should be able to drill down through the exception, all the way down to the lowest level that exists for the exception. Drill-down functionality should be considered whenever possible. It allows for the most detailed analysis and response, and can be a timesaver, although it can be a little more taxing on the reporting system because a lot more data must be available.

Show me the facts

Today demands are incredibly high on stores, both management and staff. Store managers and department managers benefit from having exception reporting because, quite frankly, they usually have little time and lots of work. Tell them only what needs to be addressed so they can do it and move on to their other responsibilities. They need information quickly that identifies the things that need action or that raise concerns and may need intervention.

I am not advocating for only exception reporting; that would be crazy. There are times when corporate users and store management need to take deeper dives into data to determine trends. That typically is not accomplished in exception reporting. Also, I like data that can be reviewed in charts, displayed across periods of time versus a single week. That type of view always helped me understand where I was and where I am likely to end up.

But when managing the business in real time, I need to know what I need to know—now! So, now I am a believer. Exception reporting is essential in any business and should be available on your dashboards and reports to help you correct things, give direction and insight, and let you get on with your day. Real-time exception reporting can help you correct something before it is too late to correct it. What could be better than that?

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