This part of the planning cycle, is very different in Field Operations and may feel alien to planners from elsewhere. The allocation of work is key and travel time, job length and fixed appointment slots each bring specific challenges.
Scheduling appointments & visits
Advanced sight on the day’s appointments is important and some members do this well, even with an automated dynamic scheduling system. This is often not true at the initial launch, so be prepared for teething problems and see the engagement process that worked for British Engineering Services (BES, 2019). One company found an initial hit on jobs per day, with new work rules and the automated scheduling. Some members are reviewing shift patterns, to better fit long jobs or home visits outside the normal day. Try fitting 2-hour jobs into a 7-hour shift! Moreover, training (see box) requires scheduling for highly skilled workers who need regular upskilling or updating. This is often not yet bite-sized, virtual or modular, as is in other areas of the business.
It’s not enough for the technician to arrive; they also need the right skill (preventing future failures, bunching work) and you need to synchronise multiple plans (equipment or tools, permissions, downtime to inspect equipment in a business or operation). You may need to build jobs for a gang of people or manage physical requirements (parts, access).
The key is to avoid siloes and optimise skills management. It becomes much more difficult and costly to build a resource model around siloed work and ringfenced workers. Make changes as early as possible, since field workers need advance notice of jobs, to pick up equipment or validate jobs with local knowledge. Is it easier to delay jobs than add new jobs? You also need a clear mechanism for requesting changes or marking preferences. For instance, the first and last job is key and local travel considerations might impact where and when vans can go to depot to load equipment (not always at the start of the working day).
Insight: digging deeper
You need to analyse and manage working times, allowing for variability – both predicted and unexpected. Analyse travel and work time separately but allow for them in both long term plans and daily schedules. Some organisations allow slots for contingency – others (like ambulance services) work entirely off un-scheduled demand but have found that demand patterns, in practice, are remarkably stable and predictable. The key to this is careful analysis of the granular data – and therefore data management and reporting is often a pre-requisite for developing schedule flexibility. You need to consider the potential impact of technology: eg mobile technology (for tracking and capturing info), technology for providing information or advice (eg video googles for level 3 experts to engage directly). Above all, you need understanding and a robust resource plan so that the right resourcing decisions are made.
This article was first published in the 2020 Best Practice Guide - 2020 Vision: Crystallising your knowledge
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