Sunday, 31 March 2013

Forecasting Workload - Beginners Guide

The first question a business has when it expands is how do I know the amount of work there is and how many staff that requires. It is a tricky subject is your new into the employment game. Up till now you will have relied on yourself to do the activities and depending on your type of work this could be skilled or unskilled labour. You may think resource planning is an activity on required for big business or the corporates and you would be wrong. Correct application of resource planning will maximise your potential output, improve efficiency and also help with marketing. There are companies that will offer you all this for a nice price, but in essence all you need are a spreadsheet and a stopwatch.



Give clear instructions
This is the most important aspect of hitting the ground running by giving clear guides you are saving yourself a lot of rework and mistakes. Unfortunately a lot of companies take the approach of learning on the job, the old you watch me doing it, then you do it while I watch you, then your on your own. This means that bad habits, shortcuts and scenarios may be missed and will lead to panic and confusion later. A well prepared manual is essential if you wish to have a productive employee. But remember they will be behind the average time taken for at least the first 3 months, if not productive by 6 months you should consider further training or performance observations. Well written guides to the work you are done should not be complete in one sitting, always leave them as working documents as often a scenario will prompt an addition, so don't go out and get them laminated for the wall.

Break workload into defined tasks
When you do everything for a business you can get so wrapped up into your own little rituals and ways of doing things that it all blends into one. But you must break each activity down into work items, this will allow optimised scheduling of activity but more importantly measurement of that activity. For instance you may think that the task of waiting tables is all one job but it isn't, the tasks involved are: Greeting and seating, drinks order, drinks deliver, started/main order, cutlery and sauce setting, food delivery, courtesy check on happiness, food clearing, desert ordering, desert delivery, table clearing, bill delivery, bill collection, table setting. You can see how a job like waiting tables may seem to be something anyone could do, but without instructions they miss one of the 14 steps listed out and you will have angry customers. You may also think you could put waiting table takes on average 1hour but then you are actually measuring the time the people take to complete meal and not the time the waiter spends working, are you OK that they simply stand and watch as the customers eat? do you think they could be fulfilling another role at the same time?



Measure time of each task - SMV (Standard Minute Value)
Take a stop watch and time yourself doing the activity, just a normal pace not rush or too slow. If the activity involved lots of different scenarios then take the most common one you do and time that. Do this for at least 10 observations and take the average time. More than this would be beneficial but unnecessary for your purposes. Mark the task description and the time taken on each observation on an excel spreadsheet, you can use the function =average(cell array) to give you the average of the ten.

Allow for down time
Factor in between 10 and 20% wastage on each timing, this is time for sneezing, errors, toilets breaks and other comfort breaks. It is important to do this otherwise your timings will be unattainable Your own discretion should be used for idle time because it varies depending on the industry. You find those who work with customers directly have far more idle time due to interactions that may be unexpected however those in a manufacturing setting will simply utilise breaks.

Forecasting workload - arrival rates
To measure the arrival rate of each task you can look over historical data. For manufacturing businesses this will be order fulfillment and stock ledgers, if you are a retail business then you can look at the customers and categorise these into a time destinction you wish to measure. It may be daily to begin with but if your operation is over 6 days it may be more beneficial to do this hourly as you will need to do shift rotas for staff. Half hourly is the lowest level you should go down to, other options would be half daily split into morning and afternoon, third daily morning, afternoon and evening.

Once you have captured your historic data (if you do not have historic data then measure it over the next 4 weeks, you may begin to use averaging after 2 weeks but it will be more volatile due to the lack of observations). You can then take average of previous four week periods to future forecast foot flow. But this is not the final step. You should consider any premiums that need to be applied onto specific dates, local fairs, markets, events, holidays or seasonality. The gut feel is the only way you can measure this to begin with unless you have historic data from previous three years. Seasonality will be a small uplift to reflect perhaps a surge in winter or summer, specific daily adjustors would be that you may be busier on the first of the month because that is traditionally pay day locally.

Testing against actuals

Continue to capture your arrival rates and compare these with forecast, this will be the best way to capture any alterations you may need to make.


Overall Workload
You are now in a position to determine the workload requirement for the specific operating days, hours or half hour periods of your operation. This will assist scheduling new staff at times when others may be present but also allow you to see any likely dips in workload that you could focus marketing on to attract business to those quiet times, offers or deals are a way restaurants fill their orders at quiet times e.g. Early bird deals, pre theatre meal deals, etc. The calculation is simple:

Arrival Rates * SMV = Workload minutes
Workload minutes /time period(e.g. within 1 hour would equal 60) = staff requirement

Where staff requirement is below 1 then you can take the following actions:
  •  Migrate workload from other time periods that is not event specific e.g. general cleaning, training
  • encourage customer migration to that time with incentives, remember that you will be paying higher than usual staff costs during those periods so some money off to ensure productivity may be more prudent financially.
  • Create new tasks or take on new work streams
  • Diversify your staff to be able to perform more than one role
  • Close business during these hours, if the work does not exist to maintain one staff member is it really worth opening the doors?
If this is your first experience of resource planning I wish you luck should you wish to discuss these techniques or require support on documents, templates or other material feel free to leave a comment and I will contact you.

This is an introduction for small operations the complexity of this gets more as your business expands and you will find automation is the only way to go if you want decent analysis of workload.