Category Archives: Schedule Considerations

5 things H.R. needs to know about shiftwork

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Let’s start with this – My intent with this post is NOT to tell H.R. how to do their job. Rather, I want to round up many of the issues surrounding shiftwork in an effort to put the spotlight on those I have found to be most important to H.R. professionals.

So, let’s get to the list…

#1: No one is going to come to H.R. to tell you how much they like the schedule they are currently working.  When people are unhappy, they complain. When they are happy, they are quiet.  This means that people coming to your office to complain about the schedule will ALWAYS out number those that come by to tell you they love it.  Just be aware that listening to those that come to you is not a representative sampling of your workforce.

#2:  What the average shiftwork wants or what a nearby plant is doing has little bearing on what you should be doing with your schedule.  After nearly 30 years in the business, I can tell you exactly what the average shiftworker likes and doesn’t like; and yet…I have never met an average shiftworker.  Everyone is unique.  In the same way, your business is unique from the company down the street.  What works for one company is not necessarily what will work best for you; even if you are in the same industry.

#3: As a service organization, H.R. works for several different interests including: planning, production, maintenance, quality, administration and leadership.  All of these have different functions and thus often require different shiftwork structures and outcomes.  Serving several masters is no easy task.  All need to be heard.  All need to be tended to.  Remember, if H.R. was easy, no one would need you.

#4: Recruiting and retention of skilled employees is always affected by the shift schedule being used.  Supervision, absenteeism, vacancy coverage and overtime will also be impacted.

#5: Process is everything when it comes to changing a shift schedule.  How you communicate plans and ideas as well as how you solicit input from affected parties will determine the ultimate level of success you experience with your change.

Jim Dillingham, Partner

(415) 265-1621

Jim@shift-work.com

Yes, it’s personal

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I’m often asked “Jim, what is the single most important thing we, as an organization, can do to better facilitate a schedule change.”

My answer is always the same – “Find a way to see the event through the eyes of a shiftworker.”  In other words, walk that mile in their shoes.

Companies don’t change schedules for the fun of it.  They know it has the potential to disrupt everything from planning to maintenance to hiring and training.  It’s a big undertaking and not to be taken likely.

When companies make the decision to change, they always approach the workforce with the case for change.  This “case” nearly always boils down to “We are doing this because of the needs of the business.”

While this is a great reason for change, it does not do a lot to calm the workforce’s concerns.

Here is why…

To the company, a shift schedule tells people when to be at work.  To a shiftworker, a shift schedule tells them when they DON’T have to be at work.

In other words, it tells them when they can live the rest of their lives; that part of their life not at work but instead with their families or hobbies or whatever they may be passionate about.

Yes, they will understand “the needs of the business” but its also important to understand their perspective.

When you touch a schedule, even slightly, you are touching their personal lives.  Change a start time by 15 minutes and watch the fireworks as employees can no longer pick up their kids or attend school or catch the early bus home.

You may say “We are changing the schedule to meet the needs of the business” but they are hearing “We are going to change your family life to facilitate the needs of the business.”

There is a difference.

Recognizing this difference will change the way you approach the project.  The right approach will change the outcome for the better.

Jim Dillingham

Partner, Shiftwork Solutions LLC

Jim@shift-work.com

(415) 265-1621

 

5 Signs that you may need a new shift schedule

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Shift schedules rarely fail overnight.  Typically, there are plenty of warning signs; signs that tell you to take action before it’s too late.  Here are the 5 biggest warning signs.

#1: You have idle equipment while still not producing enough to meet customer demands.  There can be a lot of reasons for this; nearly all of which point to a schedule that does not have the right people in the right place at the right time.  Product flow, staffing, maintenance and production order variability can all be addressed with the right shiftwork structure.

#2: Maintenance is blaming equipment availability for a downward trend in equipment up-time.  You can’t fix something while it’s running.  The result is often and solution like “We’ll wait until the weekend to fix it.”  This is fine until you find that leaving too much to the weekend ends up with an overly fatigued maintenance group with not enough hours on the weekend to fix everything.  Scheduling equipment, like scheduling people, can improve maintenance accomplishment while still getting the production hours you need.

#3: Absenteeism is going up as overtime starts to wear down your workforce.  As overtime goes up, two things will happen.  First of all, your workforce will start to get tired.  Secondly, they will notice that they are now making a lot of money and can afford to take time off.  This is a “death spiral”  situation in that it is self-perpetuating and will only get worse.  Staffing will impact overtime but to do so effectively, you must have a shiftwork structure to support the newly resized workforce.

#4: Local competition for labor is causing problems with recruitment and retention.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something like “Amazon just opened a mega-facility down the street and is hiring all of our employees away from us.”  The right schedule, one that is a good fit for your workforce as well as your business can help with this.  If wages are a concern, look for ways to get overtime to that 20% of your workforce that wants all they can get.  Overtime costs your company about the same as fully loaded straight time.  This means when you pay overtime, your employees make 50% more but your cost per hour is virtually unaffected.  Don’t lose your workforce because of wage pressures or quality of life issues.  The right shiftwork structure can help.

#5: Productivity metrics are dropping as equipment runtime-hours are on the rise.  If you are running more an more hours with the same old schedule, then you are probably seeing an increase in overtime.  While overtime is not a bad idea in many instances, it can eventually lead to worker fatigue.  This is especially true if you spread it evenly across all shifts.  Remember, not all employees want the same amount of overtime.  As fatigue goes up, so will accidents, quality issues and absenteeism.  You make find, for example, that running 6 days a week yields more output than running 5 days.  However, if you didn’t change schedules, a 20% increase in runtime will yield significantly less than a 20% increase in output.

In summary, don’t underestimate the impact of having the right shiftwork structure.  Fixing this issue is often the most expeditious and cost effective way of improving your overall operations.

For more information, call me, Jim Dillingham, at (415) 265-1621 or drop me a line at Jim@shift-work.com

Preparation is part of Doing

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I just saw a post on LinkedIn where a LEAN expert mentioned that 20% of implementing LEAN is having the right tools. The other 80% is mindset. In other words, the table must be set in order for dinner to be served.

It strikes me that this is an “oft-overlooked” phase of every project.

I worked with a company charged with writing software for an entire state’s medical insurance program. There were several hundred programmers; all of them busy all of the time. As I began my process of evaluating the workload in preparation for a schedule change I was surprised at what most of their work consisted of.

When I asked, “What do you spend your time doing every day?” The average answer came back as “I spend 80% of my time with my customer, identifying their needs. I spend the remaining 20% writing code.” Another instance of “measuring twice before cutting once”.

I recently had a deck at my house painted. It took about 20 hours. This wasn’t a large deck and I expected it to take much less time (although I wasn’t in a hurry). As I watched the painters work, I noticed that nearly all of their time was spend sanding and taping off different areas. When it come to actually painting…that took no time at all.

Whether its implementing a LEAN program or writing code or painting a deck, preparation is the key to success.

In my world at Shiftwork Solutions, things are no different. Implementing a shift schedule takes preparation as well as process. In a sense, the preparation is part of the process. Sure, you can go online and find schedules anywhere; we even put them on our website. But don’t be fooled into thinking that what you have found is the key to success – because its not.

My advice – Do it right the first time.

If want to know what that means, give me a call at (415) 265-1621.

Be Careful What You Ask For – Part One

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Once upon a time, about 28 years ago now, nearly every 24/7 operation in the country was using some version of a rotating 8-hour schedule.  Ten years ago, I used to ask large groups of employees if any of them have ever worked one of those outdated 8-hour schedules and inevitably, several hands would go up.

Now…no one remembers.

There is a problem with this.  People are no longer going to 12-hour shifts and saying “Thank God that 8-hour rotating beast went away.”  Instead, they are born into 12-hour shifts, with no knowledge of what the old schedules used to look like.

So, what are they saying now?  They are saying “12-hours is too long to work.  I want to go to an 8-hour schedule.”

They say this thinking that they will somehow reduce the length of the shift and not have to go to work 50% more days of the year.  They don’t know that they are really asking to give up half of their weekends.  The certainly don’t know that they are asking to give up their fixed shifts for rotating ones.

The cure for this is information.  When your workforce brings up the “shift is too long” issue, all you need to do is make sure they completely understand what the alternative is.

While I have never had anyone tell me “I love being at work for 12 hours,” I also have never had someone say “I really want to work more days for less money and fewer weekends off while rotating through all the different shifts every four weeks.”

Here are a couple of charts that will hopefully help to demonstrate what you are getting into with 8-hour shifts.  I use the most popular 8-hour 24/7 pattern there is. In the example, I use 12 employees to make 3 show up 24/7.

Slide1Slide2Slide3If you have any questions about these schedules, this blog post or anything else with regards, to shift work, please contact me at Jim@shift-work.com or call at (415) 265-1621.

 

Shift Schedules for the Food Manufacturing Industry

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Shift work – The more you learn about it, the more you find out how much you didn’t know.

I have friends that know very little about what I do for a living.  When I say “I evaluate, design and implement shift schedules,” they will respond with “Aren’t all shift schedules basically the same?”

I will respond with something neutral like “sometimes” and leave it at that.  They are laymen who are not involved in the business of running a business that needs to cover something other than Monday through Friday, day shift.

However, if you are in that business, the business using shift work, then you know what I’m saying when I tell you, “There is far more to shift work than schedules.”

To this end, I have decided to write a series of blogs that talk about how shift work varies from one industry to the other.

I will start with the Food Manufacturing Industry.

The one thing that sets the Food Manufacturing Industry apart from all others is the need to sanitize.  Depending on the nature of their product and process, this can mean shutting down weekly or even daily for several hours to clean.

Most companies over-clean.  They do this because their shift schedule makes them do it.

Over-cleaning creates overtime.  It increases costs and eats into valuable capacity (it’s not unusual for a food production line to cost well over $10 million.)

How does the schedule make them do this?

Following a typical growth pattern for most industries, they handled expansion through a combination of capital acquisition and the addition of afternoon and night shifts.  They plan for 5-day operations and base their capacity on that.

Now, let’s take a 3 typical sanitation requirements and see how a schedule affects them.

  1. You must clean when you shut down.  This requirement has nothing to do with periodicity.  So, if you shut down every day, then you must clean every day.  If you shut down once a week, then you must clean once a week.  If you never shut down, then you must never clean due to this requirement alone.
  2. You must clean when you change products, especially if allergens are part of the equation.  If you are running, for example, 5 lines Monday through Friday and you need to convert one of the lines over to peanut-free, then you must shut down that line and clean it.  This takes that expensive line out of the production mode which means (assuming you need the production) either weekend work or the need to buy more capital.  If you had an idle line, you could simply set up that line and then shift to it when needed.  A better schedule can make this happen.
  3. You must shut down based on a biological emergence rate.  Bacteria become a hazard in a very predictable time frame based on conditions.  The same is true for a number of other pests. The schedule being worked has no impact on this.

Let’s suppose that in you operation, you are running 7 lines for 5 days.  This means you are using 35 line-days a week.

Suppose you went to running 5 lines for 7 days a week.  This still gives you 35 line-days a week.  However, this also addresses the first two issues above.  Running 24/7 on a line means you no longer have to clean a line weekly just because you are shutting down weekly.  It also frees up other lines so you can switch from one line to the other without experiencing lost production time.

So, just looking at sanitation alone, we can see that just changing from 5 day operation to 7 day operation can save capacity and eliminate over-sanitation.

Freeing up extra lines also allows maintenance to work on equipment without having to wait until the weekend (where they now try to do a week’s work in 2 days.)

Freeing up extra line also allows you to do setups on one line while the other line is running.  You can then shift to the newly set up line without losing production.

Does this mean that you should be running your operation 24/7?

It’s never that easy.  Food Manufacturing has a lot of moving parts, schedule-wise.  Sanitation aside there is also seasonality, new product introduction etc.

The best schedule is one that carefully considers everything from both a business and an employee perspective.  Every industry is unique.  Every company is unique.  Every facility is unique.

It should not come as a surprise that every shift work solution is unique as well.

My name is Jim Dillingham.  If you have any questions, please call me at (415) 265-1621 or send me an email at Jim@shift-work.com.

How many people does it take to staff your schedule? (Part 2)

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There is a short answer and a long answer to this question.  Here is a link to the short answer.

Now for the long answer:

Take a look at the “short answer” in the previous blog post.  That is a good place to start.

The following should be considered to refine the number you get using the “short answer”:

  1. The cost of full time labor matters.  How much does it cost you to pay someone for an hour of straight time?  How much does it cost you to pay for an hour of overtime?  I am not talking about “how much an employee receives.”  I’m talking about cost-to-the-company.  If you do the analysis correctly, you should find that the two costs (overtime and straight time) are within 10% of each other.  This is important because the amount of overtime you use will play a big factor in staffing levels.  For a fixed workload, the higher the overtime, the lower the staffing level you need.

  2. How much training does it take to qualify an employee for a position.  It is likely that there is a wide variance on this with regards to different positions.  Do Not use and “average”.  If you need an astrophysicist and a box stacker, an average will give you a bad number (4 years of post-graduate study for the physicist and 5 minutes for the stacker = about 2 years, on average, to train an employee).  Long training times lead to an increased use of overtime and less reliance on other labor options such as temporary help.  If your workforce is staffed with highly  skilled people, whose skills are easily transferable to another nearby company, then you will have to bend a more towards compensation scheduling and employee preferences for overtime so as to not lose these people.

  3. How variable is your workload?  If your workload level is flat, you will still have some fluctuations in staffing as people are on vacation or FMLA etc.  When staffing fluctuates, you have have extra staffing available or you can use overtime or you can reduce production.  Cost, degree of variability, employee preference and the nature of your operations will all play a role in determining how you staff for variability.   Its worth noting here that the most expensive option is to over-staff or staff for peak production as this leads to frequent over-staffing which is costly. A highly variable workload tends to mean lower staffing and higher overtime.

  4. How available are alternative sources of labor?  It your workforce pro-overtime or overtime-adverse?  Is temporary or part time labor available? If you are in Memphis and need temporary, highly skill forklift drivers, there are temp. agencies that can give you all this type of labor that you want.  However, if you need those same temporary skill in San Francisco, you may need to “grow your own.”  Can you scale back with seasonality by using shorter work weeks or voluntary layoffs?  Note: If the answer is no, the staff to the lower end and use overtime when things get busy.

  5. What about support activities?  Things like maintenance, engineering, quality shipping/receiving and administration all need to be staffed appropriately as you grow (or shrink).  There is no simple formula for how to staff these as there is often not a “straight line” relationship between staffing numbers in operations and staffing numbers for support areas.  For example, a 30% increase in operation staffing does not mean you need 30% more CFO’s.  In some areas, you may actually find that you need fewer support staff.  For example, maintenance struggles to fix everything on the weekend but if you go to a 24/7 schedule, maintenance can now take place any time in the week; including weekdays where it can be performed more efficiently.

  6. Are you LEAN?  It’s “old school” to think you should stockpile between cells in a value stream ensure you never run out of product either upstream or downstream.  Instead, just-in-time is what modern operations strive for.  Many companies can maximize or throttle production using staffing alone.   This may mean you staff an area below its maximum capacity to enure it does not outrun its value stream neighbors.

  7. What is the opportunity cost of lost time?  This must be a consideration if you are going to staff with as few people as possible.  You may save a lot of money by having fewer maintenance specialists but then you might lose even more money if you suffer downtime because you are understaffed.

Staffing is at least as important as that next piece of equipment you are considering.  The right number of the right people will impact your cost structure at several different levels.  It will impact labor costs.  It will impact quality.  It will impact volume.  It will impact turnover and absenteeism.  It will impact your ability to respond quickly to your customers.

If you have any questions, please give me a call.

Jim Dillingham, Partner

(415) 265-1621 or Jim@shift-work.com

The difference between “a schedule” and “your schedule”

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The number one way that companies find a shift schedule is to hold a meeting and ask, “So, does anyone know of any shift schedule patterns?”

There are several false assumption built into this methodology.  One is that all schedules are created equal; that any schedule that covers the hours needed is as good as any other schedule.  Another is that the workforce, having been allowed to choose between a couple of patterns will be satisfied that their needs have been considered.  Also, there is the one-size-fits-all idea which says that if one area goes to a 24/7 schedule (for example) then all other areas must follow suit.  There is the staffing assumption that you must staff to allow for ZERO overtime and that all areas of the operation must increase or decrease staffing levels in lock-step; that is to say, if a new schedule covers 40% more hours you will need 40% more employees across the board (including supervision, quality, maintenance etc.)  Finally, there is the assumption that policies for things such as holidays and vacations, which worked for your old schedule, will also work for your new schedule.

There are actually many, many more issues that are overlooked or swept under the carpet in the name of expediency, but I think you get the picture.

The right schedule is one that is implemented using the old carpenter’s adage of “Measure Twice and Cut Once.”

Taking the time to do a schedule change right will not only save you from problems down the road, but will likely result in immediate production gains and cost decreases which are not realized by the “Who knows a schedule pattern” methodology.

Here are my thoughts on just a couple of the “assumptions” mentioned above.

Employee participation is more than just allowing them to select between a couple of patterns.  Participation means they know why a change is taking place.  They are educated about what schedules can do (and can’t do).  They are given a wide variety of options that span the range of what is available instead of just a few similar patterns.  They are allowed to have meaningful input on things like overtime levels, start times, day on/off patterns and more.  They are given “perfect” information about their final options in such a way as to allow them to discuss the options with their families before making a choice.

One-size-does NOT-fit-all:  You may have an operation that absolutely needs to go to 24/7 (for example).  In some cases this means a “balanced” schedule across all days of the week where every day has the same number of people in production.  However, suppose one or more areas can keep up with the 24/7 production by only running one shift a week; should they go to the 24/7 schedule?  What about maintenance?  Should they have a “balanced” schedule or should the labor be moved to parts of the week which maximize production?  Remember, maintenance is at its peak performance when production is at its lowest.  (It’s hard to fix equipment while it is running.)  What about quality, engineering and office staff?  These areas rarely need to go to a 24/7 schedule (in their entirety) when production does.   The “Best Schedule” is usually a collection of schedules that allow all areas to operate and support each other seamlessly.

Staffing is where most companies make the most costly mistakes.  They either over-staff and thus, pay for labor they don’t need or they under-staff and run the risk of high fatigue and turnover that typically come with a worn out workforce.  Staffing is not guesswork.  There are mathematical solutions that will tell you what the optimal staffing level is for your site.

As for policies, let me just say this: “If you think your 5-day policies will all work just fine on a 24/7 schedule – you are wrong.”

If you decide to “go it alone” let me at least offer you this: Give me a call when you get stuck.  So long as I don’t have to pick up a pencil, I’m free.  So don’t make a mistake because you didn’t have someone to go to.  My name is Jim Dillingham and I can be reached at (415) 265-1621.  You can also email me at Jim@shift-work.com.

 

How to engage our services

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There is a book by Malcolm Gladwell called Blink, the Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

In a nutshell, he talks about how too much information is not always a good thing.  We often make better choices with less information rather than more.

I sometimes worry that our site offers too much.  We really want visitors to our site to be able to find answers to their questions.  We want them to know how we can help and we want them to contact us if they have questions.  To this end, we have packed this site with as much information about ourselves and shiftwork in general as we possibly can.

And still, when people call us the first question is nearly always, “What is it you guys do?”

This tells me that we have “too much” stuff to sort through to get to that bottom line issue.  In this blog, I’m going to talk about how to find the answer to that question.

If you call me needing help, and I don’t have to pick up a pencil, I will help you for as long as I have the time to spend, without any fee.  So, call with your questions and don’t worry about being on the clock.

Our core business is helping companies to change schedules.  Companies range in size from a couple of dozen shift workers at a single site to thousands of shift workers at sites around the world.

Most often, companies need to expand from a 3-crew, 5-day operation to a 4-crew 24/7 operation.  I would estimate that this makes up about 70% our our business.

We work with every type of industry including nuclear power, call centers, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, refining, packaging, distribution, semi-conductor, shipping and many, many more.

About 80% of our work is in the United States.

A typical engagement process begins with an initial call from the client to us.  On this call, we discuss our process, usually very briefly.

If the potential client is interested in learning more, we offer an on-site visit.  This is typically a 2-hour meeting with the local management team.  During this visit, we discuss our process in detail while addressing their current situation.  We do not charge a fee for this but the people that invite us out typically pay for travel expenses.

Once this initial meeting is over, we know a lot about the client’s needs and they know a lot about our services.  At this point, the client typically likes to have a few days to discuss what they have learned.  If they decide they want a proposal, we send them one and work typically begins within a few weeks.

I use the word “typically” a lot since there is quite a bit of variance.  Some companies that have several sites just call us up and say “We have another site.  When can you start?”

I will use a few more posts to discuss our services in a “broad stroke” type of view.  However, if you can’t wait for those posts, the information is in our site, amongst all of the other stuff you might be looking for.

And remember, you can always call and ask “What is it you guys do?”

Jim Dillingham

Jim@shift-work.com

(415) 265-1621