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Have planning roles changed in the last 5 years? Yes, and by a huge amount

Published on 09 April 2021

Have planning roles changed in the last 5 years? Yes, and by a huge amount

The article suggested that there are three main roles in Contact Centre Resource Planning. These are

  • The Forecaster – described as a numbers person and an excel genius. That seems to be everything according to the article – there’s no mention of interpersonal skills or anything like that.
  • The Planner – described as the command centre leader, this person is a scheduler. They have the most authority in the planning team and are a natural leader (affixed with the pronoun ‘He’ – how very 2015)
  • The Real Time Analyst – described as ‘The Fixer’. Lots of mentions are made about their ability to ‘firefight’ or ‘plug holes’.

And that’s it, really. I know the article is over five years old, but I don’t I recognise these roles as they are written from my memories of 2015, and I certainly don’t recognise them now. The top Forum-member organisations have not utilised these roles since about 2007 in all honesty and those organisations that have gone through our Standards Benchmarking programme – businesses like Aviva, Skipton Building Society, Cooperative Bank, British Gas – are currently miles away from anything resembling the structure hinted at above.

'...they need to be able to get the various strands of the strategies aligned correctly and bring stakeholders on the journey with them.'

I’m not sure if the original article was deliberately over-simplifying things or simply out of date and wrong. There’s a real danger in any over-simplification, here – suggesting that ‘forecasters’ are only numerate or that Planners are natural leaders perpetuates the myth that these are the ONLY skills that they need and will prevent the individual growth that is needed to truly develop a career in the Resource Planning disciplines.

However, the article did get me wondering – how much have the roles in Resource Planning changed in the intervening years? So, I thought it would be fun (OK, not exactly FUN, but you know what I mean) to look at the key skills required in Resource Planning as I see them in 2021.

  • An understanding of strategic planning – Resource Planning must help the business to understand how it should be set up to best serve its vision, its values and its overall brand image. The team can turn strategies designed to support customers, colleagues and the company bottom line into operating models, skilling strategies and budgets. This requires a master communicator as well as someone who is extremely numerate – they need to be able to get the various strands of the strategies aligned correctly and bring stakeholders on the journey with them.
  • Operational Planning skills – Why would you allow your business to set course for failure by following a plan that can’t possibly be achieved? The Planning Team these days spends time helping the business to realise its ambitions by creating a long-term plan – forecasts, recruitment and attrition models, training and upskilling plans – that is truly ACHIEVABLE and not pie-in-the-sky. Plans need to be grounded firmly in the world of the possible, and the team needs to be adept at highlighting any flights-of-fancy where not even Penn & Teller could run the business. This role-holder has great skills around numeracy and communication.
  • Forecasting skills coupled with engagement and communication skills – Does your team still have forecasters in place that are strictly numerate and have difficulty communicating with stakeholders? The modern forecaster is no longer just an excel genius – whilst obviously armed with strong modelling skills, they understand the business well enough to understand the drivers behind demand and are therefore a keen researcher and a confident communicator. They work hard to ensure that the long-term operational plan mutates into the medium- and short-term plans in such a way that it is easy for the stakeholders to understand. They understand variances in driver performance and are regularly discussing the impacts of these deltas with all key stakeholders. As the forecast changes, the business is able to make informed decisions on how they should respond to the new situation, how they should build their new plan.
  • The ability to review data and recommendations – this skill focusses on data governance and handovers. Making sure that the data is correct and in line with previous iterations is vital, but this isn’t generally performed by a distinct individual – this is a key role that is performed by ALL team members.
  • The ability to schedule work and colleagues – the role of the scheduler, like the forecaster, has changed. No longer is this role simply about creating shifts. Schedulers envisage the wishes of the business, their colleagues and the customers to develop working practices that service all of their needs. Inventive and insightful, they constantly look for ways that work and time in work can be allocated, driving colleague engagement, enrichment and retention. Why would your team be happy to simply produce schedules of work when they could influence the culture and success of the whole organisation?
  • Communication skills – Hopefully, you’ve all seen this theme emerging in the article so far! Resource Planners need to be adept at bringing numbers, and the work of their colleagues, to life – and to the eyes and ears of the stakeholders. Written communications, verbal communications, great data visualisations – all being used to generate understanding, involvement and actions in the stakeholder community. This can be a single individual – a Service Delivery Manager, for example – but successful teams find efficiencies in dispensing with the extra role and having fantastic communication skills in all other team roles.
  • Proactive, agile short-term and on-the-day management – this is the work of the Real Time Analyst. Note the job title, there – it is not ‘firefighter’, ‘hole plugger’ or ‘reactor’. It is a truly analytical role. Using technology to their best advantage, they are always looking to be hyper-proactive, giving the business access to the agility they need to handle the levels of volatility in their demand and supply. They are the ones involved in readying the business ahead of the day with a series of short-term, ‘what-if’ forecasts and plans helping the business to prepare for the madness of ‘on-the-day’ management. And they are the ones steering the good ship HMS Operation through the choppy waters encountered when meshing ‘the plan’ with ‘reality’.

And ALL of these roles have to be aware of the impacts that the various different customer channels have on each other, and make sure that everything they do supports and promotes the overall vision, values and brand of their company.

I think it is fair to say that the role of Resource Planning in Contact Centres (and beyond) has never been more vital to the successful operations of a business than it is now. Businesses are becoming differentiated from each other on the strength of their Planning functions, and it is vital that planning teams recognise the ever-expanding set of skills required for them to be successful. Having said that, although all of these roles are vital to successfully delivering a plan, it is fine for the lines between the roles to become blurred. You need to ensure that within your team you have the skillsets and complete the actions, but you should avoid using these definitions to pigeonhole people into overly defined roles.

Author: David Preece

Date Published: 9th April 2021

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Author: Alison Conaghan

Categories: Planning & Resourcing

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