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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of a Workforce Management System?

Workforce Management Systems, are used to schedule sales associates in a manner that best accounts for budgets, sales forecasts, customer traffic patterns, shift rules, and associate availability. Typically the system includes a PC based workstation or web access in each store to support operational scheduling, and a central workstation for control of corporate level data such as staffing budgets. The Time and Attendance system may be an integral part of the Workforce Management System or it may be a separate system that interfaces with it.

What's different about the retail scheduling problem?

In the retail environment the timing of associate availability is critical. Failure to have associates available to service customers when the demand is there means lost sales that can't be recovered. And a customer not served today is likely to remember the experience and not return again meaning the loss of potential future sales.

Unlike scheduling for most business operations, retailers don't have the luxury of smoothing workflow by backlogging customers.

Why the increased interest in Workforce Management Systems?

In today's ultra competitive, thin-margin environment every operational element of the business is a critical one. Failure to systematically apply labor dollars is an easy way to inadvertently raise costs, lower customer service, and thereby sacrifice competitive position.

What are the primary benefits of Workforce Management Systems?

Schedules produced by Workforce Management Systems generally provide improved service levels and lower costs than possible with manual or early computer-aided techniques. Management can systematically control the trade-off between the cost of sales and the level of customer service. For any given level of customer service, costs are minimized. Conversely, at any given cost of sales, customer service is maximized. The Workforce Management System is an operational tool increasingly viewed as necessary to maintain competitiveness.

Something for nothing?

The Workforce Management System employs advanced mathematical techniques to construct a "best possible" schedule from thousands of possibilities. By scheduling labor on the floor when needed, walkouts are minimized and productivity maximized. In this way the maximum value is obtained for each dollar spent on labor. So in a way, something is gained for nothing. Of course, there is a cost to implementing and operating the Workforce Management System, but this is partially offset by a reduction in the administrative cost attendant to manual scheduling.

Really the very best schedule?

No! Strictly speaking, Workforce Management Systems generate "near optimal schedules." Finding the very best schedule (and proving it is the best) would generally require more processing time than practical even on a very fast, up to date computer. Instead, Workforce Management Systems systematically evaluate thousands of possible schedules stopping when little additional improvement can be found. The resulting "near optimal schedule" is almost always better than what can be produced by a skilled manager using manual or spreadsheet aided techniques.

Are there any other benefits?

In addition to cost and service level improvements, benefits accrue to sales associates and supervisory management. Sales associates perceive the schedules as being "fair", with an even distribution of the workload and opportunity to produce revenue. With a reduced administrative burden, managers can spend more time serving customers and motivating associates. Seasonal staffing peaks are more easily and routinely accommodated.

Does every organization need a workforce management system?

Yes! Every organization needs to document associate schedules and associate time and addtendance records. Failure to do so exposes the organization to potential legal action that could be very costly.

Does every organization need dynamic schedule optimization?

No! Generally the benefits of dynamic schedule optimizaiton increase with the size and complexity of the scheduling problem. It is certainly possible for an organization to be too small to warrant going beyond simple time and attendance and manually entered schedules.

Does installing a Workforce Management System require organizational change?

Yes, Workforce Management Systems involve a highly disciplined and systematic approach to scheduling that some may perceive as less "personal", and supervisory management may perceive as a threat. Fortunately, Workforce Management Systems benefit all constituents - so the required change in thinking is a matter of education and familiarization.

What about consistency with your organization’s IT and networking strategy?

Workforce Management Systems are available for a variety of IT environments, including Windows based client/server, and - more recently - cloud base solutions.

Does a new system make sense?

Some organizations continue to use a legacy spreadsheet based systems for workforce management. Such systems may not yield the full cost reduction and service benefits that are possible with up-to-date hardware and software technology.

Potential benefits of an up-to-date system include:

  • A better fit with your organization's IT strategy; e.g., client/server, cloud based.
  • Lower hardware acquisition and maintenance costs inherent in "commodity" PC hardware
  • Streamlined integration with other systems facilitated by the use of a common relational database
  • Better schedules (lower cost and/or better service) resulting from highly refined scheduling algorithms

When calculating plans I enter a budget of 1200 hours for a selling area for the month, but when I view the Plans - Plan Hours and Cost report there are 1300 hours in the plan. Why?

There are two main reasons why the plan calculation is unable to achieve a specified plan objective.

First, minimum staffing levels are set to high. When calculating plans QServ computes the staffing based on productivity and forecast sales for each quarter hour. However, if the resulting staffing for a quarter hour is less than the minimum staffing level then the requirement for the quarter hour is set to the minimum staffing level.

Secondly, base hours/cost may be set to high. When calculating plans QServ sums the hours/cost for each week during the planning period and compares the value to the base hours/cost for each scheduling area. If the requirements are less than the base value then the requirements are adjusted up to match the base value.

When calculating plans for a month the hours for each week are almost constant while the sales fluctuate significantly. Why don't the hours track the sales?

This situation can also be related to minimum staffing levels and base hours/cost requirements. If a substantial portion of the budgeted hours/cost for a month are determined by minimum staffing levels or base hours/cost then only a small portion of the budget is available to be allocated to periods with higher sales volume.

When calculating the plans for March weeks 1 and 2 have the same sales forecast, but week 2 has more plan hours than week 1. Why aren't the hours for both weeks the same?

There several possible reasons:

  • If one week includes an event with extended hours then the minimum staffing levels to cover the additional hours may be causing the difference.
  • If one week has a normal distribution of sales by day of week while the other week sees a large portion of the sales on a single day the minimum staffing levels on other days of the week may be causing the difference.
  • Maximum staffing levels may be limiting the staffing during periods of very high forecast sales causing the difference.

I entered a +10% trend factor for the TYR/LYR forecasting method, but when I look at the Sales - Forecast vs Last Year report the comparison only shows +5%. Why?

The trend factor calculated or entered for the forecast calculation represents the underlying TYR/LYR trend for each merchandise category for matching time periods. If the forecast period does not include events that occurred during the same period last year then the forecast result will not match the specified trend factor.

For example, you are calculating the forecast for March Week 4 of 2009. March always includes the 'Spring Big One' promotional event. However, in 2008 the 'Spring Big One' took place in March Week 4, while in 2009 the same event is scheduled for March Week 3. As a result when QServ calculates the forecast for March Week 4 of 2009 it does not include the 'Spring Big One' since it has already been included in the March Week 3 forecast. Consequently, when you view the Sales - Forecast vs Last Year report for March Week 4 of 2009 the report shows only a +5% trend even though the underlying sales trend for the merchandise is +10%.

Are schedules stored on my computer?

No, schedules are stored in the QServ database on an in-house or cloud database server. When you click on Calculate or Submit Changes, you are saving the new or revised schedule to the database on the remote server. If you click on "Undo Changes", then the schedule currently displayed on your computer is replaced by the one from the remote server.

Why is an associate missing from the schedule?

Here are the most likely reasons that a specific associate is missing from a schedule calculated by QServ:

  • The associate is not available for or all part of the week. Check the associate's availability, and make sure the associate is not scheduled for a vacation or other time off period.
  • The associate is new, but the hire date or the effective date of employment entered in the associate's profile is after the start of the week.
  • The associate's status as listed in the profile is not "Active".
  • Other associates have a higher priority.
  • The associate's only availability coincides with periods of overstaffing and hence there is no coverage benefit associated with scheduling the associate.
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