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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.


How many staff does the NHS need?

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.

Calculating How Many Staff You Need

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


What is a good work/life balance?

Friday, 12 June 2015 17:34

We create shift schedules that give shift workers a good work/life balance. However recently we were asked, “What is a good work/life balance?” This is a harder question to answer than you might think. I mean defining a work/life balance is easy, however what is a good one is subjective. Everyone talks about achieving a good work/life balance but nobody knows what it means. So here is what it means when I say this shift schedule will give you a good work/life balance:

  • When at work: you want to know when you will be needed to work with sufficient notice and the work to be unfatiguing i.e. not stressful, varied, interesting, not overworked or underworked (I can't say what the work is but I can create a shift schedule that is correctly staffed, minimises fatigue and mitigates unnecessary stress)
  • When at home: you want to have good quality time away from work, between sets of consecutive shifts a few days is required to fully recover. Between shifts you need a minimum of 11 hours so that you can have a good quality rest. When on holiday you need regular time off for a minimum of five days. (My shift schedules are designed to give you good quality time off between shifts and to make holiday management easy so that everyone could have the time off they want, when they want it with the minimum amount of disruption to the operation and others.)
  • When on-call: You don’t want to have work being able to contact you every moment you are not at work, in case there is an emergency and you are needed. So I create contingency plans into the shift schedule right up front. This means that everyone knows when they could be contacted, the probability of being contacted at any time and how to ensure they are not contacted when they don’t want to be.


This is what I mean by a shift schedule that gives you a good work/life balance. I create shift schedules for a year in advance so you always know when you will be expected at work. The shift schedule should minimise fatigue, allow you to live your life while away from work without any work worries and maintain the operation so that the company can maximise their profits so your job is never in danger.

If you want a good work/life balance contact us today for a Business Health Check to assess your work/life balance and improve it.


When 2+2=3!

Thursday, 04 June 2015 14:42

Have you ever wondered why you continually seem to be either under or overstaffed? You do the calculations and there should be enough. Yet you just can’t seem to get them to match the workload. What is going wrong? It is a good idea to plot how your staffing profile matches your shifts. This way you can see if your shifts are correct for your workload or if you need to change.

When plotting your shifts you should think about how breaks are taken, when management is available and which shifts are your cover shifts. This way you can not only see how many are in each day, but which shifts can be stood down or when you can run short.

The best way to demonstrate is with an example. So let’s take a variable workload, this workload will vary throughout the day. It could be a shop, call centre, or hotel. This workload requires minimal staffing during the night and higher staffing levels during the day. So let’s set the staffing levels to be one during the night and between two and six during the day with the highest number required at lunch time.

We can then plot this workload requirement against the numbers provided by the shifts. So we need a shifts table. Let’s say you use just 8-hour shifts and there are three shifts per day: Early, Late and Night. Then you have one person on night, and five on the Early and Late each day with a Manager on during the day to make up numbers. Would your staffing levels match your workload? On the face of it yes. You need up to six on per day, and you have six on.

shift table 5

This staffing level would require 77 hours per day plus the manager’s hours.


shift table 6


Figure above plots the staffing requirement with the shifts. The x-axis is from midnight to midnight, so 1 represents midnight to 1am. The red columns are the staffing requirement and the green columns are the staffing levels given by the shifts. Pale green is when they are on their breaks. The breaks are staggered to minimise the disruption. The Manager and Cover shifts are highlighted in blue. The number in work is shown by the orange line.

Now while on the face of it, you had enough staff, the problem is their breaks. With this staffing profile you would be short 1am-2am, 9am-11am, 1pm-2pm, 5pm-6pm by one person and between 6pm and 7pm by two people.

The plot also shows that you are over staffed in the morning between 6am-8am and in the evening after 7pm. Perhaps these hours could be better used during the middle of the day?

So would a slightly different arrangement of shifts give better coverage? The 1am-2am break is on its own. You don’t need anyone to cover the hours leading up to and after so, it’s just something you would have to live with or put two people on at night. The other discrepancies we can do something about. However it is a good idea not to use too many shifts. If you have too many shifts it becomes confusing and takes forever for the shift pattern to rotate through everyone in turn. So let’s see what we can do with just two more shifts and using a similar number of hours per week.

The shifts table below, now has two extra shifts, a Day and an Afternoon shift. So if you had two on the Early and Late shift, still one on the night shift and now three on the Day and Afternoon shift. This uses exactly 77 hours per day, the same as before. Now there are more on over the middle of the day when you need them.


shift table 7

So how would the staffing levels compare with the workload now?


shift table 8


Figure above plots the staffing requirement with the shifts. The x-axis is from midnight to midnight, so 1 represents midnight to 1am. The red columns are the staffing requirement and the green columns are the staffing levels given by the shifts. Pale green is when they are on their breaks. The breaks are staggered to minimise the disruption. The Manager and Cover shifts are highlighted in blue. The number in work is shown by the orange line.

Now the only time when you would be understaffed is when the night person is on their break. The rest of the time you have the correct staffing levels to cope with the workload. Such a small change, makes a big difference to how your operation runs.

If you compare the two graphs you will see that the manager now has a completely different job. Before the entire time the manager was on duty, they were required to cover the workload, and most of the time they were understaffed. Now the manager is still required to cover the workload for four hours of their shift. However the rest of the time they are surplus to the workload. This means that they can do the job they are paid to do and manage everyone else. They can do paper work, meeting with other managers, strategy planning and no longer play catch up.

Then there is how the other shift workers feel on the new arrangements. Before they were either under or over worked half the time. Being under or over worked is stressful and fatiguing. Now they are never over worked (except for when on a break during the night but they are on their break). They are only overworked for a couple of hours and this is during lunch time, so there will be someone on a break to chat too or they can help out during the busiest time. So much more relaxing for everyone. Now when they get home it won’t feel like a relief to be away from work. Instead they can look back fondly on a shift, where they were not stressed and everything went to plan.

If you would like help plotting your shifts against your workload or help setting the correct sifts, please contact us today: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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