Shift Planning and The Olympics – How NOT To Do It!
Author: Stewart Hill
Announced to great applause, London cheered their success in being nominated as the host city for the summer and Paralympics in 2012: “London 2012!”
This was way back in July 2005…but many people feared that some hugely embarrassing public fiasco would ensue because we Brits are sometimes not the most efficient of people. Nobody wanted to experience any problems and we still remembered the issues that blighted the Athens Olympics just the year before. Cautiously, all was going well…until the past week and the explosion of publicity about the fiasco surrounding security at the various sites in London, just weeks before the games commence and as the athletes are beginning to arrive.
In many industries, the security of employees and customers is of paramount importance. If people don’t feel safe, they won’t work for you and they won’t be your customers. In some industries such as in public services, insecure citizens may even take matters into their own hands; a situation that’s best avoided. Security is clearly an important matter so why does London have to draft thousands of soldiers to protect the games at such short notice? Simple; G4S (the contractor supplying the resources) offered the cheapest contract and then failed to deliver thousands of trained security staff.
Within the past few days, the CEO of G4S has now publicly blamed their scheduling software for the current fiasco stating that the problems are “partly down to the scheduling system” or “partly down to the fact our scheduling system hasn’t effectively worked to roster the staff” and even citing “problems with scheduling exacerbated by people not turning up for shifts.” Interesting stuff; people don’t always turn up for shifts – it’s how you plan and handle this in real-time that’s important.
It’s always easy to blame the software and G4S may well be seeking a scapegoat while simultaneously tarnishing the workforce management industry for their failures. But The Register outlines a handicap in G4S’s system: “The real-time nature of the platform seems to mean that G4S finds it hard to plan more than a day in advance, and is currently able to inform the police how much help they need only on the day.” Wow! One day in advance; no wonder there are problems! What G4S needed was long-term capacity and shift planning for the entire event. Furthermore, optimized in-day scheduling that is flexible enough to easily adjust to dynamic circumstances day-by-day and even hour-by-hour would greatly improve their management and control of their staffing and scheduling.
Admittedly G4S contributed to their own downfall here as there are well documented issues with their recruitment and screening processes leading to delays and confusion. Many disgruntled potential security staff have taken to Facebook as a way of venting their displeasure with G4S: “The purpose of this group is simple. I was promised work this summer by G4S only to have them take it away last minute leaving me unemployed, out of pocket, and helpless to do anything about it.” Still, at least the Army is there to cover!
Exactly who is behind this rogue shift planning software is unknown. Maybe it was developed in house; who knows? But that’s not the point.
The point is, shift planning (who’s working when, in what roles, and on what shifts?) and capacity planning (how many security people do I need?) is not a subject that should be taken lightly. This is a highly complex decision-making process. It should not be left to amateurs to provide the solutions that then fail. The consequences of getting this wrong can be catastrophic and costly: G4S now stands to lose around £50M ($75M) because of this mess. The damage to their reputation, however, is immeasurable.
So the next time your service business considers a home-grown or second-rate shift planning and scheduling solution, talk to the professionals who do this for a living.