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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.

Making Life More Predicable

There are two types of shift worker:

  • Those how know what shifts they are working and
  • Those that haven’t got a clue

If you are in the second category then how can you plan anything if you don’t know what you are working? You can’t! “Are you free on Saturday to go to the pub?” “I don’t know they haven’t published my shifts yet!”

If a company only publish everyone’s shifts at the last minute; it completely ruins moral, makes the managers seem incompetent, causes more absences, and costs more.

So why do it:

  • It has always been done like that
  • Managers don’t know how to do it any other way
  • Managers think they can’t predict the workload in advance
  • Managers think it will help them cover absences

So let’s answer all of these points in turn:

  • Because it has always been done is not an answer to anything. If you want to improve your business then you need to be open to new ideas.
  • If you don’t know how to do it another way then let me teach you. It really is a lot easier than you think. Trust me you are currently making more work for yourself if you do the rota each week.
  • A misnomer is the idea that predicting far into the future is harder than the near future. It’s not. You have to think about what you are predicting and why. The variations each day will even out over time. So I may not be able to predict what will happen tomorrow, but I can tell you what will happen over the year. Think about tossing a coin. There is a 50:50 chance of the coin coming up heads. Now I toss it once and it could go either way. On the other hand you were to toss the coin 100 times I could predict that 50 times it will be heads and 50 times it will be tails. I am more likely to get the 100 tosses correct than the one toss. The same is true for predicting your workload.
  • Not allowing your staff to make arrangements outside of work will cause more absences not less. This causes unnecessary stress, doesn’t allow them to make healthcare arrangements outside of their working hours and will have a negative effect on their happiness. How happy and positive you are will have a real effect on how quickly you recover from illnesses, and your general energy levels inside and outside of work! There are lots and lots of reasons why a good shift pattern will reduce your absence rate, but I’ll save that for another blog.

So how do you go about publishing your rota in advance?

Firstly I always create a rota for a whole year. There are lots of reasons for using a year included:

Everything is easier over a year. The figure below is an example of the 232 shift pattern for a year. In this exaple the shift worker has 10 day holiday every five weeks except in the Summer where there is a 17 day holiday. 

232 year

To create your own shift pattern you need to predict your workload. Don’t worry if you can’t predict all of it. If there really is a large variation then you predict the average and the 10% and 90% percentiles. You then just use flexible working arrangements to meet your SLAs. The workload is key whenever you are creating a shift operation. Your employees are there to cover the work. So you only want them there when there is work for them to do and you want them in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills.

Next work out how many staff you need. Really easy calculation just get my ebook. There is no point in employing too few. In the long run that just leads to high overtime and agency costs. Now you can’t save your entire overtime and agency budget but if you employ people at basic rate it will normally be a lot cheaper.

Now you need to think about a shift pattern for a good work/life balance. So you need to think about fatigue, time off, commutes, length of shifts, etc.

Once you have it you just create it for the whole year. I can create a basic shift pattern for a year in a few hours. The more complicated it becomes the longer it will take. So if I need to equalise everyone’s hours, shifts, create an intricate cover arrangement and include a summer period plus schedule training have variable staffing throughout the year for more than 50 people it will take me about a day or two.

Now think about how long you spend creating your rotas. If you are doing it for five people each week, it most take at least fifteen minutes. You have to sit down, decide what shifts you want covering, then think who is available when plus look up what hours they have, what hours they worked last week etc. 15 minutes each week is 13 hours a year! Then you have to contact everyone and tell them what shifts they are working, ask them about holidays, find replacements for those on holiday and still do a round robin when someone goes off sick.

So why waste your time? Why make your employees unhappy? Why add to your problems?

Make life more predictable for yourself, your customers and your staff. Plan ahead and create your shift scheduled for a year in advance. If you need help check out our blogs, videos and ebooks or contact us directly:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  for a tailor made shift pattern.