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The Key to Effective Scheduling: Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

If you have been in the business as long as I have (I started as a bagger at age 16) you accumulate a lot of good advice and operational know-how over the years, especially if your career gives you the good fortune of working for some great managers. I’m sure I am not alone in wanting to both pay the industry back and to pay my own benefits forward in appreciation for the wise words and examples that I carry from Bill, Hal, Bill, Gary, Rick, Lee, Frank, Mark, Howard, Mead, John, Gary, Gordy, Mike, Lynn, Tim, Fred, Mike, Phil, Tony, Mike and Purna. I am sure you have your own list of mentors and colleagues who made a difference in your professional life. I hope yours is as long and memorable as mine.

More than one of those guys in my past impressed upon me that a key to success is to plan your work and work your plan. Over the years, I have found that truer words for a Labor Management mantra have never been spoken.

Your planned schedule for the next or future week should never be just a list of names with assigned shifts. Good schedules always have a work plan associated with them. The best work plans have your organization’s best practices informing all the elements of who needs to do what, when and for how long. Like a Playbook for a skilled sports team, these best practices constitute your plan for success and should help everyone in your organization, from experienced veterans to brand-new hires, do their part to make your brand’s success happen. That plan includes all the tasks that make your operation ready for business and the services that keep Customer Satisfaction high to retain customers in ever more competitive conditions. In summary, the key to an effective schedule is the work plan behind the schedule that makes sure the right work is done by the right people at the right time. Of course you must ensure the skills and needs of associates are adhered to in the schedule too.

So why are good schedules important for effective store operations? Aside from the need to have an effective plan, it’s because good schedules minimize the variance that your team needs to handle for everything you can’t anticipate in the plan you create when you build the schedule. There is no way that your forecast could know that it would rain this morning with the result of pushing the business later in the day. You could not possibly have predicted that Julie is sick, Sandy missed her bus, Scott has an unplanned teacher’s conference to get to, and Billy’s grandma died (again) and that leaves you short of the people you planned to serve your customers today. Those are the variations that your store team must deal with in the current week with the schedule and work plan generated and published before the beginning of the week.

What constitutes a good schedule that still serves as a foundation for flexible changes to accommodate these unforeseeable events in the actual week? That’s a subject I’ve talked with a lot of people about over the years and that is the big picture behind this series of blogs about what you need in best practice development and accurate forecasting to create a smart, effective and flexible schedule. Again, my bottom line is that a good schedule requires an effective work plan with flexibility to adapt to last minute surprises. That plan involves your best practices to achieve putting the right people at the right place at the right time doing the right things. Once you have those essential best practice prerequisites in place, you need a good accurate forecast to prepare your work plan and schedule. You can’t create a good schedule from a bad forecast.

A great work plan and schedule is the outcome of best practice planning focused on how best to deliver your brand in each store, every day. Understanding your brand and detailing the delivery of that brand is critical to success. Few formats can succeed trying to be all things to all people and those who try tend to find they are vulnerable on all fronts. There is a reason that the General Store of our grandparent’s days is no longer the store of choice in your neighborhood with fresh produce, notions and buggy whips within easy reach on dust covered shelves. Consumers want and expect more. Consumers also expect consistency and their loyalty is either renewed or challenged during every shopping trip they make. So your plans to deliver the right store conditions, the right service levels, the right products displayed in the best manner that you choose to best present them – these are all elements of the work plan you create. And, most of all, your plan will declare how you intend to put the right people at the right place at the right time and doing the right things to validate customer appreciation of your brand for today’s business and tomorrow’s potential.

While the ability to leverage technology and the accumulated know-how of applied industrial engineering has certainly advanced from the day I started in retail, it still doesn’t get any simpler than understanding that same concept my best managers knew and taught: plan your work and work your plan.

In upcoming blogs I will be addressing the issues related to effective best practice development, accurate forecasting, work plan staffing and effective scheduling to deliver effective store operations and drive customer satisfaction.

Stay in touch. This is my opportunity to pay it forward in your direction too. At least that is my plan.

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