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T: 01636 816 466
E: alec@oranalysts.com

The Old Vicarage
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Operational Research

You can always be more efficient

Operational Research is all about using analysis to improve decision making. Dr Angela Moore uses mathematical modeling, statistical analysis, optimisation, sequencing and scheduling techniques to create simple heuristics you can employ to run your operation more efficiently.

angelamoore@visualrota.co.uk

What do you do when you have a staff shortage in a critical skill set?

There are lots of skills in short supply e.g. doctors, engineers etc. The training and recruitment takes time, but if you are short of the shifts now then you need a long term solution and an immediate response. The long term solution is of course to invest. You can either make a different product or get new equipment which makes that skill obsolete. Not very easy to do with doctors, but if they can create those cool scanners that they have on sci-fi movies, then there is a chance. You can train or hire more people. Which again is not easy if the whole industry is short of a skill.

shortage 2

In general, you do need to make a substantial investment if you want a long term solution. However, that doesn’t help you today, or tomorrow. It’s no good telling your clients, sorry I can’t make your product on time this month, but in 6-months’ time we will do better. You will just lose all of your clients to a rival who can deliver on time. Still that is one way to mitigate the problem and your business.

So what you need is an immediate short term response that allows you to match your current workload. This happens to companies all of the time. Their workload changes, suddenly and they have to put in an immediate response. All it takes is for one of your products to become the latest must have and you need to cash in now.

So how do you get your workers to work more hours now so that you can maximize your current resource. Well there are lots of options depending on how and when you need the extra people. Most companies will fall on overtime as the quick cure all for any problem.

Overtime

Overtime is an incredibly powerful tool. Used correctly it solves problems, often at a cheaper rate than hiring extra people. However, it comes at a cost. There is the immediate cost, you have to pay overtime rates for extra hours usually at about 50% above shift rates with double time on weekends and Bank Holidays. Now this means that on average if you work overtime you get an average of 65% above normal shift rates assuming that the requirement is evenly spread. It is very unlikely that the spread would be even in the first place as most staff shortages occur on nights and weekends because holidays will skew the distribution. But there is also a cost to the individual, working excessive overtime does take a toll with regards to fatigue and a lack of social time. So if you are thinking of employing a lot of overtime e.g. 8-hour or more every week over basic hours, then you need to think about a special overtime shift pattern that will allow you to call people in on overtime without causing fatigue and allowing them a work/life balance.

The most you can get on a regular basis is a 60-hour week. We have set these shift patterns up. If you need this many hours then the staff involved need to be trained in fatigue, so they can understand how to operate effectively and remain healthy.

There is also an unfortunate cost to the company when it’s one option is always to resort to overtime. Many companies find that they quickly create an overtime culture. The individuals involved become used to the income from their overtime and can’t manage on their basic wage. The managers can’t cope without the extra hours. There is a lack of incentive to finish on time as you would be depriving people of their much needed overtime. This could even lead to sabotage, spoiled goods, poor SLAs, higher costs and lower profits. The situation can often spiral out of control with no clear path back to a basic working week.

DDCNN

Above is a shift option that allows shift workers to work 60-hours in eight days. The pattern is based on the 4on-4off but with an additional cover shift (the 'C' shift) built in. This means that working an addtional overtime shift does not effect their time off, and can be either a day or a night shift.

Agency and Temporary Staff

Another option managers often fall back on is a temporary workforce. If you can get the skills, when you need them, then why not? Agency and Temporary Staff are very good. Again there is a cost involved, but is it as high as more employees? Especially if it is just to cover a temporary situation? However, there is also a lack of consistency. Then everyone needs an induction, training, supervision but they are very flexible.

Forego the Work

Not all work will have the same necessities. Sometime, you have to let one thing slide so that you can concentrate on the really important things. This is a very hard decision for a manager to take. There may be a fine or a lost customer because of it. Most people will try to please everyone but in the end they will please no one.

So if you really can’t cope then you need to sit back and reevaluate every job you do. What is time critical, and what isn’t. What is the opportunity cost of every job? Most manager are not trained to deal with this type of assessment. So they need training and procedures to follow. Think of it like triage. In triage you sort the victims of a disaster to maximize the number of survivors. When sorting jobs, you are trying to complete as many on time as possible, or complete as many as possible or minimise the waiting times of all.

Holiday Blackout

Holidays or vacation blackouts are used by companies during periods of heavy workloads. They are planned in advance and are announced to the employees. A good illustration of when a company will use a holiday blackout, is when a new product is launched. Apple even did it for their iphones. On average this would mean about 12% extra hours.

Universities often have a holiday blackout for fresher’s weeks, and exam weeks. Teachers have regular holiday blackout periods in term time. So a holiday blackout is common and regularly used.

Time off in lieu

Time off in lieu is far more cost effective than overtime or using temporary staff. It means that you can reorganise people to when you need them and then give them the time off when you don’t. Sounds great, doesn’t it. However, there are a few drawbacks. Firstly, it only works if you have or will have the correct number of staff. It’s no good telling people you can have time off in the future if you work today and then latter on you still can’t cope.

Secondly you need to know when you will need people and when you won’t need people. So you need to predict your workload in advance and then plan ahead.

Thirdly people are not always happy to have time off in lieu if they are used to an overtime culture.

If you take all of that into account, then you can have an efficient operation at minimum cost. This is what we help our clients achieve all of the time. Many people have seasonal variations in their workloads, so we create a yearly shift pattern. This allows people to work a higher average working week for part of the year, and a lower average working week in the rest of the year. Works very well when the workload is lower in the summer, who doesn’t mind working a few extra hours each week in the winter when the weather is poor if they get extra days off in the summer.

If you are the other way round, then it’s a bit trickier. Yet we have created shift patterns where the change is barely conceivable to the individual, but the company has the right number of people when they need them.

If you don’t think that your workload is predictable then we have created flexible shift patterns. This is where you can send people home when they are not needed and bring them in when they are needed. If you want flexibility then it does come at a price, not neccesarily more than using temporary staff. However if they are all your own staff, then you don’t have the issues with consistency and training.

Reassess your workload

You may feel continually understaffed, but are you? The way the human mind works, it is not like a machine. Think about time, we don’t experience time in the same way as a clock. Neither do we remember experiences in the same way as they statistically happen. When things go wrong they take precedence in our memories. It’s a survival instinct, designed so that we can avoid problems in the future. So what seems like being constantly understaff, is in reality being understaffed sometimes, still regularly just not every shift.

If you estimate your workload for the year, then you can see how many people you need to employ. Many people who feel understaffed are surprised to find that really they do have enough people. The problem is that they are not matching the workload. Hence they have too many people on one shift and too few on another.

We can assess your workload and create a shift pattern to match it. If the workload fluctuates randomly or because of an unforeseen event (common problems are when a customer decides to run a promotion without contacting their suppliers), then flexibility needs to be built into the system. We can assess when you need flexibility and to what extent. This means that we can create a shift pattern with the correct amount of flexibility and match your workload.

If you are constantly under resourced, then it’s time to think stop firefighting and about the future. Assess where you are and where you want to be then make a plan to move from one to the other. If you need help or want the shift solution to bridge the gap, then contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call us on (+44) 1636 816466