Why Scheduling Alone Can’t Fix a Bad Workforce Management Plan

If your contact center was overstaffed, how well coordinated do you think your schedules would be? How nimble would your workforce management process be?

How about if your contact center was understaffed -would your schedules be efficient? What would your workforce management staff spend their time doing? (Hint: They’d be scrambling to get agents to work more overtime every day.)

I was at lunch yesterday with a workforce managementexecutive whom I really respect, and we were discussing the various components of workforce management processes. His take was that the long term plan was the most important—if unappreciated—aspect of the workforce management process.  He told me, “Scheduling can’t fix a bad plan.”

Let’s elaborate.  There are two important elements to workforce planning:

1. Make sure you have the right number of agents trained and available to meet the seasonal and changing demand for your service

2. Ensure that your operation is nimble and efficient in reacting to day-of changes in your environment.

(Note that these are traditionally two separate processes and are often the responsibilities of two different analytic teams.)

The first element is under the purview of the strategic planning team. The strategic planning team develops week-over-week forecasts, they determine how many agents are needed throughout the peaks and valleys of their operation’s seasonality, they develop hiring plans and training plans, and they often turn this information into a variable labor budget. The most important aspect of this process is this: this process determines how many agents show up to work each week. Usually, this process is managed through a contact center strategic planning system or a complicated spreadsheet.

The second element of this process contains several work steps. The real-time workforce analysts forecast daily volumes, keep track of agent schedule adherence and absenteeism, develop weekly schedules and schedule bids, and ensure that hour-by-hour they make the best use of the agents that they already have available to schedule.

The focus of the industry has been traditionally on the latter, real-time problem. There are many short term planning and scheduling systems, but only a few strategic planning systems.

It should be very clear that these to processes work hand in glove. If one of these processes is broken, both are broken. If the strategic planning process delivers to the operation the wrong number of agents, then there is little the real-time team can do to fix it (especially if it is a problem that occurs regularly). It is impossible to optimally schedule a sub-optimal number of agents. Both processes need to be correct if the operation is to run smoothly.

As my expert friend told me, “Scheduling can’t fix a bad plan.” This should be obvious to all contact center leaders. Here’s a call to action: look into your long term planning process. It should have three important features.

  1. It should include a method to test how accurate it is. Can you plug in last week’s volumes, handle times, and staffing and accurately predict the service level and abandonment rate that was achieved?
  2. It should automate and optimize when (which weeks) and which centers to hire.
  3. It should forecast all important metrics—not just call volumes. The process should also forecast handle times, sick time, agent attrition, and all other metrics that drive the plan.

If you’d like to discuss planning, there is nobody on the planet that enjoys chatting about it more than I do—feel free to drop me a line.


Ric Kosiba

Ric Kosiba

I joined Interactive Intelligence in August 2012 as part of the Bay Bridge Decision Technologies acquisition. I helped found that company back in 2000 and thoroughly enjoyed working with our brilliant development and operations research team, which helped us become the leading U.S. supplier of long-term forecasting and planning solutions. In my current role as vice president of the Bay Bridge Decisions Group, I’m responsible for the development and enhancement of our contact center capacity planning and analysis product line. I tripped into the call center industry about 22 years ago and can honestly say that I still love it. I hold an M.S.C.E., B.S.C.E., and Ph. D in Operations Research and Engineering from Purdue University (go Boilers!). I reside in Maryland with my wife and four children. I love being a dad and enjoy coaching kid’s football, basketball and lacrosse.