Looking for ways to improve your scheduling process? Here are some tips to get you started.
Bring in an outside expert.
A common misconception is that you have to pay big dollars to bring in outside consultants and experts. In reality, that’s often not the case. Most of the time you can offer to bring them out and meet you for a day at minimal cost, or even for free, but that short amount of time can have big benefits.
There are a few reasons why you should bring in an outside expert:
1. They have a wide variety of experience with different clients.
In practice, this means they can quickly tell you what you're doing well, and what areas you can improve compared to others.
If you’re someone who has worked in a particular company for a long time, it’s natural to become accustomed to the scheduling processes and workflow in that particular company. It’s hard to be objective, and you aren’t frequently exposed to multiple ways of doing things.
Tradeshows and conferences are great places to learn from peers and industry leaders, but it’s often hard to get past surface-level discussions. Have you ever noticed a new hire commenting “oh, we did this a different way at [previous employer]”? Often, new hires are brought in from competitors precisely because they can offer another perspective. Two companies in the same industry, using the same tools and software, will almost always operate very differently.
An expert with experience consulting for a variety of companies can quickly tell you where you could improve compared to others, and where you’re doing well, saving you a lot of time and allowing you to prioritize improvements quickly.
2. They can bring an objective perspective.
Improving processes within an organization is hard. Despite (in theory) everyone being aligned in seeing the company succeed, there are often individual priorities and agendas within different departments, or for particular individuals.
If your crew scheduling manager has been using a particular scheduling process for years, it’s going to be tough for you to convince them that your process in the vehicle scheduling department is better.
An outside consultant, in addition to bringing a wide variety of experiences, can act as an impartial third party, making suggestions without catering to any particular department or individual, and allowing coworkers to remain on their own side - the company’s side.
3. They bring deeper expertise.
You likely use software and other tools in your scheduling process. But do you know those tools inside and out? Are you aware of their full functionality and what they’re capable of? Often the case is no, and it’s very difficult to “know what you don’t know”.
Experts with particular operations software, or using different combinations of software, are often aware of functionality and possibilities that you aren’t. This can save you huge amounts of time and money, as you may be thinking about replacing a particular tool, or paying for an upgrade, when really you could streamline your process using the tools you already have.
2. Make your scheduling process data-driven.
When you start to examine your options for improving or optimizing processes within a business, particularly scheduling processes, you need to make sure you’re driven by real data.
You should already have a wealth of data from the schedules you’ve operated previously, and the associated KPIs (key performance indicators), whether that be revenue, utilization, or some other metric.
If you’re really on top of things, you may have tracked how those schedules have changed over time, how much time your scheduling team spent on each part of the scheduling process, and secondary KPIs like customer satisfaction or net promoter score.
Before you think about changing any part of your scheduling process, you should do a historical analysis and define how you want to improve. What is your primary goal? Cost-reduction? Revenue growth? Something else?
This is a key step in the process, as it allows you to make sure all stakeholders are on the same page, and is another great way to make sure potential changes are fully understood, and have buy-in from employees.
Once you’ve done a historical analysis, and determined your KPIs, the next step is to run some simulations or “what-if” scenarios. Again, the point here is to be data-driven, and simulating operational changes on historical data is a great way to make an objective assessment about whether the changes you’re considering would have the impact you expect, and which changes would have a disproportionate effect on the results.
If you don’t know where to start in conducting this analysis, the experts mentioned in Step 1 can often get you going in the right direction.
3. Be prepared for counter-intuitive opportunities.
If you’ve followed our first and second tips, you might be in for some surprises. Setting this expectation is extremely important in getting your employees and coworkers to buy into the process.
Is your goal to improve margins? It may make more sense to reduce costs than increase revenue, and the steps to get there may be the opposite of what you were expecting (restructuring your fleet instead of expanding, or reducing your operating flexibility).
From the very beginning, you need to make sure your employees know that you’re doing a ground-up analysis of all processes related to scheduling, and that nothing will be assumed before you start. Make sure they know it will be data driven, and the goal is not to change the roles of any particular department, but to improve the overall efficiency for the entire company.
It’s important to make it clear that the process will be data-driven as much as possible. If you want to take into consideration things like employee satisfaction (at your own company), that’s certainly possible - just make sure it’s quantitative, and make it clear that opinions that aren’t backed by data will not be part of the process.
Once you’ve set the stage properly, you should have all employees ready to take part in the process, and prepared for some changes.
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