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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.

Sunday, 19 July 2015 16:07

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.

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.

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:
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for a tailor made shift pattern.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 14:40

People tend to solve their problems one at a time. Usually this is because the whole is just too daunting or they don’t know what to do. So let’s say they have a problem with absences, what do they do? They fire fight, so when they have someone off, they ring round and get someone in on overtime. They reschedule everything to cope for each shift individually. They solve the problem.

Well that is better than ignoring the problem or going into panic mode. But is it really the best approach?

When I see a problem, I don’t like to take it on face value. Maybe it’s the statistician in me but I just don’t trust facts. What people think of as facts are usually nothing of the kind! They are theories which are proved to be correct based on assumptions about what we know, have experienced and how we see the world. Think about light, that is both a wave and a particle. Both are true yet neither is the whole truth.

I like to see the whole problem and consider the causes of that problem. The first place to start is to understand why a problem is occurring. In the case of absence, the causes could be sickness, authorised leave, training, or the shift pattern. I would look at each of them individually and consider what impact, if any, they were making to the way absence was occurring. Sickness should be the most prominent cause of absence and this will be random. The other causes are not random and need to be considered individually, then as a whole.

Once I have discovered the causes of the problem, I then see if I can solve them rather that the problem itself. Sickness of course can’t be solved by me. I don’t have a magic pill that everyone can take and be well and healthy for all eternity. On the other hand, training could be done outside of the workload so that it doesn’t affect absence on shift.

If the causes of the problem can’t be solved; which is true in the case of sickness, then I consider the solutions that could be used and the consequences of those solutions. The consequences could be direct, like overtime budget or indirect like creating an overtime culture. The consequences have to be weighed up and then my clients will decide which ones they can live with and which ones they would prefer to live without. Everything is about balance. It is no good solving one problem only to make ten new ones you didn’t anticipate.

Solving a problem is not about doing your bit or about only solving the problems in front of you. It’s about anticipating the problems before they happen, creating best practice solutions and looking at the whole picture. These may all sound like clichés, because they are. But if you want to solve your problems then don’t sweat the little things. Focus on the main problem and make a choice, what can you live with and what would you rather not. Everything has consequences. It’s the consequences we can live with that determine the best solution.

So if you have a problem with absence, don’t solve it one problem at a time or one shift at a time. Solve the problem for the whole year. Do it once but do it right. It will save you money and time in the long run as well as creating a more efficient and responsive operation. If you would like to know more, then contact us directly on (+44) 1636 816466.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015 09:02

Unsurprisingly the answer is not obvious and will depend on who you ask. If you ask anyone managing people in the NHS their answer will be in relation to their budget. If you ask doctors or nurses, then they need more staff. If you ask the public, they want more doctors and nurses, but less administrators.

If you were to ask me, however, I would ask “what is the NHS’s workload?” So forget the budget, forget their current number of doctors, nurses, porters etc. When you want to know how many staff any organisation needs you have to start with the workload. The workload is every company’s’ *raison d’être*. So that is where you start. How many patients does the NHS look after? Then look at the health needs of their patients, and separate them according to required skills. So for example in 2013/14, there were 15.462 million total hospital admissions. For each hospital admission you would need so many hours of cleaning, catering, nurses, porters, receptionists, doctors etc.

When doing any analysis, you need to have one consistent unit. Hours are always good because everything can be turned into hours, so you can always use the same time scales to compare.

Once you have the workload, separated into skill sets, then you can work out how many staff you need. The number of staff you need will depend on their contracted hours. So you simply divide the workload by their working hours. Simple, then you can say exactly how many staff the NHS needs. What’s more you can prove it. If you would like to know how to Calculate How Many Staff You Need buy my ebook available from Amazon.

The really hard part is matching the staff to the workload.

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