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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.



Tuesday, 11 April 2017 15:48

 Easter is just around the corner and for many people, they will be looking forward to an extra-long weekend. For most, they will be off for four days, some may be off for 4.5 days. And some may decide to extend this with their precious holidays and have a week or two off to enjoy the sun.

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But for those on a shift pattern, Easter is just another day. That is both good and bad depending upon how you look at it. After all if you are on the right shift pattern, then you might enjoy a long weekend every other week. Some people might even have a five-day weekend, 26 times per year, before holidays. True, they have to work on the other 26 weekends, but there are other benefits to shift work, like the money, and more days off.

For those on a holidays included shift pattern, you might not be able to pick the exact week you have off, but with about 30 weeks off per year, does it really matter if you are off the first or the last week in August?

So what should you look for in a shift pattern if your time off is important to you?

First of all, consider the weekends. If you are on an 8-hour shift pattern, then you are looking at one weekend off in four, but that is normally a long weekend (Friday-Sunday). If you are on a 12-hour shift pattern, then you have far more weekends off per year. Approximately 26 per year before holidays. But there are shift patterns out there which have split weekends. The 4on-4off, arguably the most used shift pattern in the world (for 12-hour shifts), only gives you 13 whole weekends off per year. It also gives you 20 split weekends per year.

The best shift patterns for the weekends are the 232, which has alternating three day weekends, and the 554, which has 26 weekends off per year, all of them are five-day weekends. That is before holidays. With holidays, you are looking at about 31 weekends off per year depending on your holiday allowance.

The second thing to consider with a shift pattern is fatigue, what is the point of a long weekend if you are too tired to enjoy it? There are a lot of different factors that go into fatigue. But your shift pattern can make a big difference to how tired you feel. In general, there is nothing wrong with regularly working seven consecutive shifts. Provided that your work is not mentally or physically draining and you have regular breaks. What will make you feel drained is single days off (avoid like the plague), starting too early or finishing too late, inadequate rest breaks between shifts etc.

Then there are holidays. How do you maximise your time off? What you want is quality time off, not the odd day here and there.

So on the 4on-4off sift pattern, 6-days (days not 12-hour shifts) will get you 12-days off (4-rest days, 4-shifts of holiday, 4-rest days). 12-days will get you 20-days off (4-rest days, 4-shifts of holiday, 4-rest days, 4-shifts of holiday, 4-rest days).

On the 232 shift pattern, 3-days of holiday will get you 7-days off (2-rest days, 2-shifts of holiday, 3-rest days). ~10- days of holiday will get you 16-days off (2-rest days, 2-shifts of holiday, 3-rest days, 2-shifts of holiday, 2-rest days, 3-shifts of holiday, 2-rest days).

On the 554 shift pattern, ~7-days of holiday will get you 13-days off (4-rest days, 5-shifts of holiday, 4-rest days). ~13- days of holiday will get you 23-days off (5-rest days, 4-shifts of holiday, 5-rest days, 5-shifts of holiday, 4-rest days).

However, if you really want to have some nice long breaks regularly, you can’t beat a holidays included shift pattern. On a holidays included shift pattern you are looking at one week off each month. You can have a two-week holiday in the Summer. Sometime people want a two-week holiday at Easter too. That way they get two long breaks while the weather is good, and you can have two weeks abroad, and two weeks at home each year, as well as a few one week breaks.

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So you are look at about 10-30 weeks off per year, depending on your holiday allowance and the chosen shift pattern. On average a holidays included shift pattern will give you the best time off for your holidays because they combine your rest days and holidays to give you good quality time off.

However, the real benefit of a holidays included shift pattern is not the amount of time off, it’s the privacy and freedom. When you are on a holidays included shift pattern, your time off is your own. You don’t have to tell the company what you are doing on your time off any more than an office worker would tell their boss what they do at weekends. Your time off is your own. You also know when you will and more importantly when you won’t be working, months or even years in advance. So you can plan your life. So when it comes to commitments outside of work, you can say when and when you will not be available. You can book your holiday when it is convenient to you, and not after you have asked for permission.

So this weekend, while you are enjoying the Easter sunshine, consider how every other weekend you could be enjoying a long weekend. 


Security Operation

Wednesday, 22 March 2017 16:07


number 10 smallThe today’s latest attack at Westminster demonstrates the importance of having a dynamic security operation. While most organisations will not have to deal with a security incident of this magnitude, the same principles apply.

So when you are designing or managing a security team/department you need to consider the workload:

What will your workload be on a day to day level?

If an incident does occur how many people will you need to deal with it?

What skills will you need on a day to day basis?

Will the workload change throughout the day?

Will weekends be different to week days?

Once you know the skills and the number of people you will need across the day, week and year, you can begin to set up the operation.

You can estimate the number of people you will require to run the operation, and their skills. You can design a shift pattern that will meet the needs of the operation and the security team. You need to consider, how night working, weekend working, fatigue and work/life balance will be dealt with on shift.

Normally you would plan to be able to cope with two major incidents at a time as a minimum operational level. Typical major incidents would include: fire, attack, car accident, alarms, lockdowns, visiting dignities, events, terrorist alert, gas leaks, electrical or mechanical failures.

When an invent happens, you need to be able to help the police, fire brigade and ambulance service. You may need to evacuate premises, help with injuries, man the control room, and normal operations.

We have helped many companies set up their security operations based on the above principles. If you would like help organizing your security department or advice on how to make your operation more efficient, please contact us via email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  or call on:01636 816466


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

Friday, 15 April 2016 10:26

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.

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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 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.


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


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