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  • Writer's pictureJohn Casey

Don't look back - look forward

As planners, how often do we seem to spend our time working out the reasons why Service Level was missed, why so many calls abandoned or that we seemed to be short staffed? Funny how we never get asked for a report on why Service Level was achieved, answer rate was high or why we seemed to have the staffing we required. As with many businesses, or indeed life in general, we love to focus on the negatives and not necessarily give praise when things go right. I’m not going to discuss how the issues are often caused by the actions of others outside planning – let’s leave that for another day. In this blog lets think about how we use our time as planners.

I feel the question often has to be posed with respect to what is done with the analysis? Is it simply produced so someone else in the chain of command can show that they did something by asking the question? The more important question is what is done with the findings, and all too often I feel the answer to that question is very little.

Roles within call centres are well defined. Frontline staff interact with customers. Operational managers at whatever level are responsible for how that interaction takes place. Finance, IT, HR, Facilities all have their place with clear recesses. Is Resource Planning the exception in that they have to deal with whatever life throws at them? There are processes, but to the planner does it feel like they spend their day deflecting requests and events which try to break the processes. HR will try to find solutions, but they have clearly defined lines where legal constraints can cut a request short. Finance is regulated, and so on. It seems to be Planning where the processes are constantly tested, and special circumstances trump processes. But would we have it any other way? It’s part of what makes the job fun!

A good planner is always learning. They are looking at the environment in which the business operates and trying to understand the behaviours of customers in order to put an effective and efficient plan in place. A good planner starts to instinctively understand where the gaps in the plan are – and by gaps we mean higher and lower – and they adapt. WIth the right processes, and a properly configured WFM system, the deviations are getting picked up and built into future plans. Does it really need a full post-mortem every time performance goes down a little?

There is nothing more demotivating than being asked to re-produce extremely detailed reports on a constant basis. Therefore step 1 should be for planning teams to have a standard pack which shows the highlights of the previous day / week / month. It may not answer all the questions but if it addresses key data about the business results, the customer and the employee then others can deep dive as much as they like. Most importantly it must be automated, or at least a quick cut and paste process. In an ideal world it is an online portal, ensuring reports can’t be edited and everyone has the same view.

If this is in place then would it allow planners to do what their job role suggests? Plan? A good planner should be constantly refining what they know of the future, whether than is forecasting, scheduling or real time. Yes, schedules have to be released at a certain stage so that staff have notice of their shifts. But that doesn’t stop us reviewing what is happening and looking for ways (in collaboration) to make tweaks. But that takes time. There will be many things that change as we get close to the day of the plan. We need time to be able to review, review, review and continuously look for ways to adapt. But that can only happen if time exists. It is not good enough to release and forget. Don’t leave it to the real time analysts to adjust on the day. That portrays an element of chaos – especially if it could have happened before the day in question.

So think about some simple steps.

  • When do lunches and breaks need to be released?

  • Are reserve or short notice shift releases an option – maybe once every 6 or 8 weeks for a subset of the workforce?

  • Would staff be willing to volunteer to shift slides by 30 minutes or change day off if consulted about the option – could this be an option a few times per year?

  • When can overtime be released?

  • Could coaching or training sessions slide with respect to time (not be cancelled)?

WIth notice, changes are often possible. But this means, as I keep saying in this blog, that constant review needs to happen between the initial version and the day in question. There is only one way to do this, and it is to create time. Get rid of the time spent creating those post mortem reports, and dedicate more of our working day to looking forward.

We can’t change the past but we can influence the future!

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