Real-Time & Operational Planning in Back Office & Enterprise Operations

Presented at the National Best Practice Seminar, held on 19th November 2013.

Watch the video, download the presentation and read the full article below.

Following on from this year’s annual conference session and focus on Back Office planning, this  session focused on the Real-Time part of the back office planning cycle.

As usual it’s always a good idea to start with the Back Office efficiency cycle to understand where about planning fits in, and in particular the role of Real-Time, or Operational Planning.

As we know, the planning is only as good as the processes in place and their adherence, followed by the accuracy of data, to support to process of planning.  The continuous learning loop is completed by the performance management of the processes and the people.

Real-Time Master Class
Over the past 10 months I have focused on the topic of Real-Time by hosting two Master Classes, as well as workshop discussions at our September regional seminars.  This has given the planning forum the opportunity to speak to a fantastic cross section of our members to learn, develop then ratify our findings to establish what is Real-Time.

Probably as no surprise to our Back Office community the main input has come from front office, blended and outbound organisations; with very little from back office.  So today is the opportunity for us, and you to discuss roles and responsibilities of Real-Time.

To help frame the conversations I want to talk through the first version of ideas, which I first presented back in September, but have since developed further following the second Master Class in October.

We have developed a planning time line from scheduling release to post day review and analysis to aid continuous improvement and improve future forecasts.  This time line will be different for different organisations and may take into consideration size of operation, number of sites, complexity of workload, etc… 

To prevent a void, of lost opportunity, there needs to be a short-term forecast following the schedule release, which in turn leads to any schedule tweaks, e.g. overtime, annualised hours, voluntary shift changes, update of absences, movement of offline activities.  This then gives us a real-time projection, maybe of backlog or service level which needs analysis and communication.

This then gives us the advantage moving into the day giving us the opportunity to review, reforecast and refocus the day.  Optimise activities, absences and offline work.  This will aid live operational decisions and provide an on the day projection.
Post day, what reviews are taking place and what is being review?  Workload needs to be tracked versus forecast, volumes and handling time; with findings put back into the plan to improve future forecasts.  Reviewing schedules fit and efficiencies and understanding which flexibility options worked for you and could be planned for next time.  What productivity, or utilisation measure do you have?  Finally, shrinkages reviewing what happened versus forecast and budget.

Now, where do the responsibilities lay in the back office?

Here are our results from this year’s conference, where 68% claimed shared responsibility with 16% saying Planning and 16% saying operation.  Now consider this, the audience participating in this survey was predominantly planning analysts and managers; however if we repeated the survey with the operation would they claim to have responsibility or would they think it’s shared?

Following this 10 month review and information gathering for Real-Time our thinking is that the roles and responsibilities for Real-Time are the same for front and back office.  However we need to consider this a bit like baking.

Same ingredients but very different results. 4 very different cakes, in style, size and shape as well as how they were made; however significantly the same ingredients.  Or roles and responsibilities.

The challenge is “how do we balance the responsibilities”, how can we stop “too many cooks spoiling the broth” with different ideas, methods and approaches and how can we get to “many hands making light work”? Aligned targets with clear roles and responsibilities?

Three topics for you to consider are:
Who has responsibility for Planning in your Back Office operation?
How are roles/responsibilities split or shared & communicated?
What are you biggest on the day challenges?

Variability of the amount of asynchronous work
As part of our university reading we have come across a very interesting book written by Koole, called “Call Centre Optimization”. Recently, during the delivery of our Planning for Back Office training we used this formula for a discussion as a possible back office alternative to Erlang-C and a way of factoring in variability and confidence.

This could be useful for long-term planning and budgeting; however with this considered it could really support the real-time and operational planning.

What is “Asynchronous”?  
syn•chro•nous [sing-kruh-nuhs]
1. occurring at the same time; coinciding in time; contemporaneous; simultaneous.

a•syn•chro•nous [ey-sing-kruh-nuhs]
1. not occurring at the same time.
2. (of a computer or other electrical machine) having each operation started only after the preceding operation is completed.


Variability of the amount of asynchronous work

“The amount of work from asynchronous channels is variable: both the number of contacts is variable and their handling times.  Because of the nature of the asynchronous contacts it is of interest to compute the standard deviation of the total amount of work in a day or a period of the day.  There is a mathematical formula to compute this.  Assuming that the forecast is good and that the only variability in the number of arrivals comes from Poisson distribution, and that the variability in handling times is roughly of the same size as the handling times themselves (which is a reasonable assumption), then it is safe to schedule (Volume+1.4 √Volume) x AHT instead of just Volume x AHT.  Under the assumption this gives roughly a 84% probability that all work can be done.  If 1.4 is replaced by 2.3 then this probability is 95%.”

Koole, Page 104, “Call Centre Optimization”

Two topics for you to consider:
What flexibility is being built into your long-term plan?
How could this formula help your real-time & operational management?

Phil Anderson
Contact Specialist, Professional Planning Forum
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