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Scheduling: How good are your labor standards and best practices?

by Patrick Dittamore
Scheduling Product Manager

Scheduling is only as good as the sum of your preparations. Even the best systems and most thoughtful schedule writers are only part of the equation. If the scheduling system, labor standards and best practices are inadequate or inaccurate the resulting schedule will be compromised.

A good labor standard is the structure behind each task and job to be scheduled. Your standard quantifies the time required to complete a task. Use of “standard time” helps increase productivity, creates a baseline for continuous improvements and allows you to plan labor as a strategic resource to put labor hours in the right place and the right time.

It is a challenge to ensure that labor standards are up-to-date and reflect the way you intend to do business. All too often standards become obsolete from not being updated and refreshed as processes, product mixes and automation changes. And the lack of a current and factual labor standard can raise labor cost and or slow down production. It’s a condition that you need to guard against to keep your system accurate and effective. No system or schedule writer can overcome the inaccuracy of your standards to model your labor effectively.

Equally important as the labor standards are the best practice work methods upon which your labor standards are built. These are the systematic methods to complete tasks in the most productive and cost conscience way while fulfilling your customer service, safety, food safety and other critical operating goals. These best practices cover everything from how you produce products, how you clean, how you service customers and anything else that goes into the effectively operating your business.

Best practices should be the cornerstone of any business. They help create routines and efficiencies that not only define the work required of the workforce but allow time for the interaction between employees and customers. Best practices create a way for employees and management to understand the task work that needs to be done and define a reasonable standard time associated with each task. Best practices make training easier and allow new employees to learn their duties faster. They help your managers be better trainers and coaches and ensure they understand how to execute your operational vision.

My years of experience in the industry have taught me the importance of best practices and accurate labor standards as a foundation for effective labor planning and scheduling. I can assure you that this isn’t just ivory tower industrial engineering, but a key to help real people operate better stores on a consistent, day by day basis.

It can be a challenge to put best practices and standards in place. The biggest hurdle in the process is change management and helping your entire team buy into and trust the labor standards. It is always easy as a manager to say “do it because I said so,” but the real win is getting the employees to buy into them. If you take the time and make the effort to win the hearts and minds of your team you will find it really pays off in lots of different ways. I can remember how excited my employees would be when they came up with an idea that bettered the process and how involved they were in helping others engage in the processes. I know of no better opportunity to engage your employees while you improve their performance!

To sum up:  best practices and labor standards are an important and integral part of scheduling. They are the building blocks of efficiencies. The only way any scheduling system works is if they are all working together and reflective of your way of doing business and serving your customers.

Producing a schedule based on standards and not having the best practices to complete the cycle will result in failure. But remember, the efficiencies associated with those standards are only as good as the best practices that help your employees complete the tasks in a quality manner in the time it should take. Conversely, having the best practices defined but not having a standard to understand the time those practices require is also a mistake. Without both, your potential is limited.

As with everything in business, the better the preparation the better the results, and effective scheduling means you need to ask how good are your labor standards and best practices.

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