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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.

Shift Names

When you are creating a shift schedule we recommend that you name each of your shifts, rather than write out the start and finish times. There are a few reasons for doing this:

  • Minimises the number of shifts you are using
  • Harder to make a mistake
  • Simplifies the calculations
  • Simplifies the creative process when creating a shift pattern
  • Easier to see at a glance when people are working
  • Easier to see at a glance if you are short and when
  • Easier for recording absence and holidays

Basically you don’t want a schedule that is too complicated. If you use too many shifts, it will take you at least a year to rotate through everyone. You want a shift schedule that allows everyone to work similar shifts to a pattern. If you have 20-30 different shifts and there are seven days per week, then it will take almost a year for everyone to just work each shift once on each day of the week (depending on the lengths of the shifts). So you don’t get a pattern when every day everyone is working a different shift.

Then for each shift you use you need a holiday equivalent, a sickness equivalent, an absence equivalent, and overtime equivalent, etc. By the time you are finished you have over 100 different shifts! There are not that many letters in the alphabet so your shift pattern looks more like somebody emptied a tin of alphabet spaghetti onto a piece of paper than a schedule. Then you can’t just glance at it and say yes on Monday we can do the workload because we have the correct people in at the correct times. You end up guessing continuously.

Less is more when it comes to shifts. Start off with three or four. Then you will still end up with over ten but at least you will have a shot at remembering what they mean.

Some people just have the start and finish times because it all just gets so complicated. But then you don’t know what that means and it is so easy to miss type a number. So does 9:00-16:00 mean a seven hour shift, and do they get paid for the full seven hours or are breaks unpaid? What job are they doing? If you have a list of people with start and finish times can you say quickly how many will be there at 12:00 or do you have to go down the list and individually add it up? What happens if they want to take it as a holiday, or if they are sick? Shift names make things a lot easier.


The rota above is a real rota. If you were to glance at that quickly you would have no idea what was going on. There are shift names in some slots and times in others. You don’t know how many hours they are working and if asked who is covering lunch or working this evening, you would be hard pressed to answer without studying the rota for a good five minutes.

So what is a good shift name?

The shift name should sum up what the shift is, e.g. D for Day shift, E for Early shift. Then you can add letters for holidays and sickness, e.g. HD for Holiday on a Day shift. Also always display a table with the shift schedule giving the start and finish times of the shifts. This way if anyone is unsure or you haven’t memorised the shift names you can see quickly and simply what they are. If you can also add a count for each day per shift, then you will always know how many will be on. Here is a list of popular shift names:

A Afternoon

B Back shift

C Cover

D Day

E Early

H Holiday

L Late

M Morning

N Night

S Sick

T Training

W Weekend

U Auxiliary

V Vacation

Then you can combine the names e.g. WD Weekend Day, SN Sick Night. Or add numbers e.g. D2 for Day shift with skill 2. Sometimes I add a letter after the main shift letter to indicate length e.g. DL for Long Day shift or NS for Short Night. The type of shift always goes first. Or D9 could be a Day shift starting at 9am.

Shift Pattern 1

The shift schedule above shows how the shift pattern looks in VisualrotaX. As you can see the shift table at the top shows you how many are working on each shift each day, the start and finish times of the shift and adds up all the hours. That way you know how many are on each day on each shift. At a glance you can see there are three people there during lunch time on week days and two on at weekends.

If you would like to find out more about creating a shift pattern please click here for more information.

If you would like to contact us about shift scheduling please email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it