Real-Time & Operational Planning for Front Office & Outbound 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.

Our Real-Time Master Class has provided our community with an amazing opportunity to develop and understand Real-Time best practice.  I’m also delighted to say that the Planning Forum have now developed a 2 day specialist Real-Time advanced planning techniques training course, that can be done as part of the university course, or as a standalone specialist course.

Throughout the year I’ve been ratifying our findings with the aim to produce a full article for our website and next year’s best practice guide.  Continuing this process today’s session will touch upon the skills and competencies required for Real-Time then short-term flexibility tools that can be used, or levels to pull on the day.

The starting point will be the Time Horizon that has been developed for the Real-Time part of the planning cycle.  

Back in September of this year, at our Welsh and Scottish seminars I hosted a session looking in different roles and responsibilities that are relevant for Real-Time. The competencies are based on our Business Accreditation product, which offer organisations to opportunity to benchmark their planning function again this framework and other organisation.

The results of the survey are:

Role/Responsibility/Competency  Yes No
Operational focus and awareness
 86%  6%
Real-time operational planning and management
 86%  8% 6%
Co-ordinate offline time, time off and post-scheduling changes 
 83%  14% 3%
Tactical and contingency planning
 81%  8% 11%
Analyse staffing shortfall/surplus & performance implications
Relationships and engagement
Forecast resource availability and 'shrinkage'
Information and Analysis for Planning
Change and innovation
 20% 36%

No surprises with the top 5, as you’d expect operational focus and awareness and Real-Time operational planning feature very high, though some organisations felt that these responsibilities feel outside of planning.

In third place was co-ordinate offline time, full description:
Manage requests for post-scheduling changes and for time-off or off-line activities, so as to meet both business and people requirements.

The different levels within this category are:
•    Level 1: Input requests and respond to them
•    Level 2: Evaluates the operational impact of requests using complex criteria
•    Level 3: Review and improve the process for managing time off/offline activities
•    Level 4: Establish an operating environment which reduces stress and improves performance

An interesting category for Real-Time, as the responsibility could fall within Scheduling. However, as identified by our Time Horizon as very important step where immense value can be added, and cost saved if done effectively. Looking at the different levels the most basic level is the inputting of request and responding to them, or purely an administrative role. The levels then go up as further analysis and evaluation is carried out, communicated and implemented.  The highest level is where this role and responsibility “Establish an operating environment which reduces stress and improves performance”; which really captures the importance.  

Tactical and Contingency Planning
This is all about planning and co-ordinating resources over the coming days/weeks and develop contingency plans, working with a range of managers and functions to resolve issues and drive operational learning.

The different levels within this category are:
•    Level 1: Process updates, monitoring and communicating information
•    Level 2: Assess operational situations and make relevant operational decisions
•    Level 3: Review and improve tactical and contingency planning
•    Level 4: Promote strategic development of tactical and contingency planning

The question of “How volatile is your workload, how much flexibility do you require?” keeps cropping up; and it’s a question we believe is extremely importance; just how important we don’t know yet!

Lower down this first list is Change and Innovation, described as:
Develops the role of the planning function as a catalyst or responder, stimulating effective innovation at the heart of the organisation

The different levels within this category are:
•    Level 1: Undertakes changes and developments in response to requests or critical situations.
•    Level 2: Initiates improvements in own area and supports initiatives elsewhere in the enterprise.
•    Level 3: Leads and develops continuous improvements and innovations, working with stakeholders at all levels across the enterprise
•    Level 4: Inspires and enables an environment of innovation and continuous improvement across the enterprise that uses pressure positively.

Less than half our survey ticked that is was a role and responsibility of Real-Time (44%), however 36% agreed it “maybe”.  Following on from the flexibility/volatile question, if your organisation experiences unpredictable and difficult to plan workload fluctuation which require short-term levers to support, then this would suggest that there needs to be a Real-Time focus which “Inspires and enables an environment of innovation and continuous improvement across the enterprise that uses pressure positively.”

Other supplementary roles & responsibilities surveyed included:

Forecast staffing demand/capacity required
 88% 9%
Planning for different channels 
Schedule employee time
 83% 18%
Skills-based scheduling and work blending 
 30%  0%
Long term planning and budgeting 
 53%  29% 18%
Build forecasting and planning models
 50% 47%
Professional development
45%  6%
People Planning
 45% 30%

The first interesting observation is just how many of these competencies are regarding as necessity by over 80% of the survey group.  

One skill that everyone agreed was relevant with 70% necessity and 30% nice to have is Skills-based scheduling and work blending; described as:
Analysis of the factors thaat make up a successful skills strategy in the centre and the ability to think creatively around new alternatives and to assess the impact of these.  The different levels within this category are:
•    Level 1: Process defined tasks for areas with skills-based or blended workloads
•    Level 2: Creates and manages schedules that optimise the use of different skills
•    Level 3: Review and improve the way that skills are used and planned within the centre.
•    Level 4: Promote the strategic use of multi-skilling within the operation.
In a complex environment skills-based routing is more than an administrative role and one which can add a lot of value and cost saving.

The competency which came out lowest was People Planning, full description:
The ability to analyse and plan for the entire employee lifecycle from recruitment to promotion or leaving - working with HR and other departments to integrate activity in this area and track the people impact.
•    Level 1: Update, monitor and communicate information
•    Level 2: Analyse and communicate information for people planning
•    Level 3: Develop and improve people planning
•    Level 4: Support the development of people strategies within the organisation.
In some respects not surprising as you would expect this is a priority for the Scheduling and Forecast team, however going back to the example of a highly volatile workload environment where short0-term flexibility is critical, this becomes a very relevant competency.

A simple observation from this exercise is just how many competencies, roles and responsibilities fall under the Real-Time function, yet in many instances Real-Time is the entry level into planning.  How can we expect a high level from an entry level planner, or administrator?

Three topics for you to consider:
What Key Skills do you look for in a Real-Time Analyst?
Which supplementary skills are more important for a Real-Time Analyst scheduling or forecasting
Is Real-Time the entry level into planning or the most complete/advance planning skill?

Short-Term Flexibility
The flexibility tool kit is designed to provide a range of full & part-time, contractual and non-contractual scheduling options which can be combined to fit your organisation and people.  Through our research and workshop discussion one thing that has become apparent is how parts of the toolkit are done informally and ad-hoc; and this may have been happening for years!  There may be fear to formalise these options and have to go through consultation to change contracts, consequently missing out on delivering a positive people story of promoting work/life balance.

Which of the following short-term flexibility options do you use, or are considering?  And, which are done formally, or just informally?
Flexibility Options
Second Job
Annualised Hours
Time Banking
Unpaid Leave
Contractual Overtime
Zero Hours Contracts
On Call
Relief / Short Notice

Three topics for you to consider:
Which short-term flexibility options give you the most flexibility?
How much short-term flexibility do you require?
How do you measure/quantify your short-term flexibility requirement?  

The final question to ask is:
Should the flexibility requirement and volatility of workload shape the planning team?

Phil Anderson
Contact Specialist, Professional Planning Forum
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Take a look at these articles, videos and links
Focus on real time
Real-time & tactical planning
Real-Time planning time horizon through the analytics framework
See the latest articles on Planning for Outbound


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