Six of the Biggest Scheduling Mistakes and Why you Should Avoid Them

If you’re scheduling staff, you need to ensure that you keep on top of those schedules and realise that as everyone’s an individual with their own skills, experience and ways of working. Some staff are more flexible than others; some have skills that mean they can complete certain jobs more quickly, and yet some will be slow, but have a perfect completion record.

How you manage this is important. Using the wrong tools can mean you upset staff, have inefficient processes and end up with a schedule that doesn’t work, and plan that fails.

Here then, is a list of “gotchas”, things that can go wrong, together with a solution to make sure it doesn't happen to you!

Not getting regular feedback

Feedback is important in your scheduling. You need to have mechanisms in place that will allow you to understand and act upon feedback from your staff.

You need to measure what they’re doing, how well they do it and when it’s done. If your schedule requires someone to be at a particular place doing a certain task, you need to know that they’re there, and they do it. But was the equipment there, too? Could your staff gain entry? Were there any other problems you missed?

And importantly, was the job finished on time?

If you get regular feedback from your staff, you can begin to understand who is best at completing what job, meaning you can start to build efficiencies into your workflow.

You can get this feedback in a number of ways. You could hold regular meetings, or you could get an email from the staff, but ideally you should have a system in place that allows your remote staff the same access to their jobs as those in the office. This system should enable them to fill out a form that passes this information back to the office automatically.

Not being fair

Do you know which of your staff are overworked?

Without having an overall view of staff resources, it’s difficult to know who is out on the road all the time and who is sat in the office waiting for a call. Indeed, if you’re not getting regular feedback (see above!), you might end up just sending the same person out to do the same types of job all the time.

It might make sense on the face of it, but this can lead to an unfair system where the one with the most skills becomes overworked, and those who could possibly do with gaining on-the-job training aren’t getting the necessary experience.

A system that allows you to manage all your resources and pinpoint exactly where they are, what they’re doing and discover who’s being over/under utilised is essential.

Being inflexible

This can be due to a number of reasons, not least the tools you use to manage your schedules, but flexibility is the key to a healthy workforce.

People can be ill, overworked, late, or maybe a job is taking too much time?

In one company we were working with, some jobs were given a certain amount of time to be completed. If that job couldn’t be completed for whatever reason, the agent would have to leave the site and move on to the next. Another agent would be despatched to continue the work.

This was because of the software being used. They were using an Excel spreadsheet which didn’t have the flexibility in it to allow schedules to be chopped and changed, or even just extended.

There were obvious problems with this.

The primary agent could have been working on this particular job for up to two hours. He or she knew exactly what was going on and why there were problems. They were the obvious choice to finish it.

However, according to a restrictive system, they simply had to move to the next job.

This resulted in jobs not being completely properly, more faults and a workforce that was getting fed up because they could get jobs finished that they’d started.

Being flexible with the little things, such as holidays, sickness, and travel is as important as knowing that some jobs might take longer, and others not so long.

Not scheduling breaks

People need to rest.

A workforce that is pushed beyond their stamina will eventually snap, and become inefficient and maybe even dangerous if they’re working in extreme environments.

Your system might know how long a person is at a particular site, doing a particular job, but does it take into account the travel time? Does it measure effectively how long your staff are on the road, negotiating roadworks on the M25 for hours on end?

Does it tell you how long an individual has worked this week compared to others? And do you know from feedback what the quality of work is like?

You need to rotate schedules and shifts, take into account travel time and incorporate breaks.

Each member of staff reacts differently, so you need to have records for all of them, understand their patterns, what they’re best at and how they can be managed better.

Assuming everyone wants to work 9-5

I once worked for a manager who insisted that all staff go home at 5pm. He wouldn’t schedule any work for after that time, stating that it was unhealthy, and people should go home and be with their families.

This is fine in principle, but some people (like me) didn’t have families yet. I would have happily worked later in order to start later the next day, and weekends would have been a brilliant time to work. Less traffic, companies had fewer staff getting in the way (assuming someone was there to let us in of course) and it would have been far more efficient.

Sometimes you don’t have to draw straws to do the graveyard shift, some people actually prefer it (see flexibility above), and so you should consider letting them.

Not Using the right tools

As you’ve probably guessed already, a lot of this comes down to using the right tools for the job.

Scheduling and planning isn’t just about entering names in a bunch of columns on a spreadsheet and then moving them around when things change. The colour of a cell may be a good indicator of whether something is going well or not, but it’s not an intuitive way of doing it. It doesn’t take feedback from the engineer on the job, and it doesn’t allow for multiple data types to be entered, the storage of files etc.

Proper scheduling and planning software will allow you to do all this, but it will also do a lot more.

You should be able to decentralise the inputting of information. Allowing your staff to fill out their own forms, inputting their own data which can then be reported on is essential.

But it should also be easy to use.

People want simple interfaces that match today’s way of doing things. Drag and drop with rules to define what happens in certain scenarios makes it easy to implement within an existing framework.

In a nutshell, you shouldn’t have to alter your business to fit with your software; your software should work for you.

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