In workforce management (WFM), the main goal is to put the right number of people in the right places at the right times, doing the right things. Schedule efficiency (sometimes called workload fit) is a key WFM success metric because it measures how well you’re doing that.
Planners who have a solid measure of schedule efficiency gain credibility with leadership. Schedule efficiency metrics can change the nature of the conversation when service goals aren’t met, and they can also be used to illustrate the impact of adopting different scheduling constraints to operations, e.g. consistent start times.
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Despite the importance of measuring schedule efficiency, planners are often so busy that it can quickly slide down the list of priorities. Using a simplistic approach by taking the forecast, creating schedules, then graphing the schedules against staffing requirements can be tempting. If the lines look close, you’re done, right? Not exactly. That approach can be as damaging as not measuring schedule efficiency at all.
In this post, we’ll cover basic good practice in schedule efficiency measurement and what you can do to improve over time.
How to measure schedule efficiency
There are a few ways to check how efficient your schedules are, however, I recommend measuring the number of staff that fall within a 10% threshold of your requirements.
For example, if you require 10 agents and schedule 11, your efficiency threshold would be within 10%. Just by scheduling one more agent (12), your efficiency would fall outside the 10% threshold.
Start by measuring your baseline and establishing that as the number to improve. There isn’t a specific number to recommend as a best practice, rather, it’s more about incrementally improving against your baseline. In my experience, the best target number for your contact center will become clearer over time.
A common pitfall I’ve seen over and over is when planners rely on graphs instead of measuring efficiency values. Take a look at the following graphs, for example:
At first glance, the graphs appear to show different results. The first one shows much higher schedule efficiency than the second. In reality, they represent the same data set. Graphs can be misleading since the way they’re perceived is largely dependent on the scale.
Unscrupulous planners might show the first chart to have their schedules accepted and the second to justify making changes. But regardless, they haven’t actually determined the efficiency of the schedules. If you want to measure and improve schedule efficiency, it’s important to apply a numeric approach.
In the data behind these graphs, 18 of the 21 intervals (or 86%) fall within the threshold.
By measuring the percentage variance of scheduled to required...
...it becomes clear that three intervals fall outside of a 10% variance:
Now that we’ve explored efficiency measurement using an existing schedule, let’s consider how you can start creating better schedules in general.
How to improve scheduling efficiency
Using WFM software with the right features is the best way to create the most efficient schedule.
A good first step is to plug your historical data into your WFM software tool and let it provide you with an accurate forecast and staffing requirements. Based on this forecast, the tool can select the best mix of shifts to cover your workloads. WFM tools are typically quite capable, but make sure that the historical data you feed into the system is correct.
To get the best-fitting shifts out of such software, ask yourself: does my system have the capability to create a great schedule? And am I giving it enough flexibility to create a great schedule?
Common contact center limitations that can prevent a WFM system from finding the optimal solution are:
- forcing consecutive days off
- not allowing split shifts
- requiring strict break placement
- not deploying enough part-time and long shifts (e.g. 10 hours)
- not utilizing non-traditional schedules (e.g. slant schedules)
Here’s a good rule of thumb: The more flexible your WFM software is in choosing among various shift types with different lengths and start times, the better your schedule will be. It’s all about flexibility.
Remember, there are limits to flexible scheduling. Flexible agent contracts and working time agreements are a prerequisite before a contact center can make use of certain scheduling tactics. In the end, your contact center’s scheduling ability will only be as flexible as the business conditions allow. Remember also that you’ll have to feed the scheduling rules into the WFM system so that it takes them into account when creating the schedules.
Agent feedback is crucial
Scheduling efficiency isn’t the only metric you should care about. I recommend measuring agent feedback about your schedules, too. The thought of collecting feedback about your work might seem daunting at first, but it’s valuable insight, and here’s why.
There will always be internal perceptions about a scheduler’s effectiveness, and I’ve come to realize that it’s far better to be proactive in an attempt to understand the views of your stakeholders (i.e. leaders, managers, agents). This way, you have a rational basis on which to measure the quality of your schedules.
And the survey says...
I’ve found that using a simple survey can be an effective way to gain insight that can be used to frame the conversation about your schedule quality. Try to aim for 2-4 surveys per year, and give yourself enough time to analyze and act on the results before the next one.
In your survey, don’t ask agents if they like their shift schedules or if they like you personally; it’s not about that! Ask questions that focus on objective stakeholder expectations concerning your work as a planner, such as:
- How well is the current scheduling process working?
- Are schedules released as communicated?
- Is the current process easy to understand?
- Are scheduling changes processed according to the timeline?
As with scheduling efficiency, get started by measuring the current state and establishing that as your baseline. Your objective is to continue to improve this number over time.
Balance your measurement with your needs
The importance (or weight) you give to schedule efficiency versus employee feedback will depend on you and your goals as a planner. I recommend allocating a weight to the schedule efficiency metrics and employee feedback metrics.
- If your contact center aims to become more cost-effective, then add weight to your efficiency metrics.
- If the objective is to improve relationships with the operational staff and focus on employee satisfaction, it might make sense to put more weight on the internal customer feedback.
Over time, it’s best to try to evenly balance efficiency metrics and agent feedback, since both are vital and the planning team will need to meet both of these objectives consistently.
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Originally published on Nov 15, 2017, updated on Oct 02, 2022.
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