Seasonal and Unbalanced Scheduling: A Case Study

Operation Managers and Human Resource Managers know that if your workload has seasonality, then you need a plan to deal with it.  Maybe your strategy is to maximize gains or maybe its to minimize lost opportunities.  Whatever your priority is, we can help you develop a staffing and scheduling strategy to achieve it.

The case study below is just one of the dozens of sites that we have worked with to help with their seasonality.  

The situation:

  • A distribution center with 350 employees
  • Last year they ran 38 Saturdays
  • Highly seasonal with 3 months having no weekend work
  • Local unemployment is around 3%
  • The workload is dictated by upstream sources outside of the distribution center’s control
  • The lack of predictability coupled with few days off was resulting in high attrition
  • High turnover and high training requirement resulted in a dramatic drop in productivity causing more overtime

What we did:

  • Evaluated the “shape” of the workload; identifying where in time the work took place.
  • Evaluated the cost of labor: straight time, overtime, temporary workers and part-time workers
  • Involved the workforce through a series of surveys
  • Educated the workforce about different schedule solutions to their current situation.

What we found:

  • The workload that fell on Saturdays could be split between Saturdays and Sundays without penalty
  • The workforce consisted of:
    1. Those that never wanted to work overtime
    2. Those that loved overtime
    3. Those that wanted a 12-hour schedule for more days off

What we implemented:

  • 30% of the workforce went to a 7-day, 12-hour schedule
  • The 12-hour schedule paid more and had 78 more annual days off
  • The 12-hour schedule workers were guaranteed that their schedule weekends off would be off
  • 70% of the workforce stayed on a 5-day schedule.
  • The combination of schedules coupled with the staffing levels left enough weekend overtime for those that still wanted it while dramatically lowering overtime that was assigned to those that didn’t want it.

In the end, the people that wanted more predictability got it.  Those that wanted more days off, got it.  Those that wanted their weekends off, got it.  Those that wanted a lot of overtime, got it.

Call Us and We Can Help you develop a staffing and scheduling strategy to accommodate your seasonality.

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585 to discuss your operations and how we can help you solve your shift work problems. You can also complete our contact form and we will call you.

When should your shifts start?

As a Plant Manager or Human Resources Manager, in a shiftwork operation, you’ve certainly heard “Everyone that I know wants to start the shifts at such-and-such a time.”  You hear this but the question is – What do you do about it?

Should you survey the workforce and let them choose?  Do you have your own idea that possibly is soundly based on a certain business needs?  Can you have multiple shift times?  Can you try one time and then a different time and see which people like best?

This can be a complicated issue.  It can also have a profound impact on how your workforce views their workplace.  If you “impose” a start time then expect to hear a lot of “What we want doesn’t matter.”  If you leave it up to them, then be ready for them to choose something outside of your comfort zone as a manager.

I would like to make two simple points with this blog.  

The first point is, it is always a good idea to look for ways that the workforce can control their work environment.  Letting them choose something as small as a start time for their shift says, “We, as a company, believe that you know best what start time works for you.  You pick it and we’ll support it.”  This is a great message.

The second point is to make sure that you will be okay with what they choose.  This is true with start times or lunch menus or whatever you want them to pick.  

My rule of thumb on start times is that the Day shift shouldn’t start any earlier than 6:00 am.  If you think this is a good idea (read below) then you would make that a condition when you let them pick a start time.

So, what’s wrong with starting before 6:00 am?  Most 8-hour operations have the day shift start between 6:00 am and 7:00 am. The afternoon shift would start 8 hours later; the night shift, 8 hours earlier. For 12-hour shifts, employee preferences for start times tend to be about 30 minutes earlier than their preferences for 8-hour shifts. So, if you are on an 8-hour schedule that has a day shift that starts at 6:30 am, expect the workforce to want a 6:00 am start time for 12-hour shifts.

Our research has shown that employees starting at 6:00 am get about 20 minutes less sleep per night than those starting at 7:00 am. Before you run out and change your schedule, consider the following: (1) shift workers are typically locked into whatever start time you currently have. They will resist change. (2) The later the day shift starts, the later the night shift gets off. This is the trade-off. Ideally, a night shift would end early enough to allow the night shift to get home before the sun comes out. This means getting off earlier rather than later.

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585.

Is Your Shift Schedule Lean?

There are many aspects to the concept of Lean Manufacturing and Lean Thinking.  One of the fundamental goals of applying lean concepts is to eliminate waste in the process. 

What can we do to minimize waste in shift schedules?  In no specific order, here are some places to look:

  1. Match the coverage to the workload
    • A headcount mismatch creates idle time, overtime, and lost capacity (if you are unable to run)
    • Avoid over-staffing to cover absences.
       
  2. Create time for preventative maintenance
    • Make your product right the first time – avoid defects and extra processing resulting from machines that are out of adjustment.
    • Avoid waiting due to breakdowns.
    • Reduce operating costs due to improved equipment efficiency.
  3.  Allow shift workers to get rest (days off, hours/day)
    • Reduce defects due to human error.
    • Feel better, better performance, clearer thinking, and more interest in engagement.
    • Less pacing due to fatigue.
       
  4. Smooth production and create flow using a continuous schedule (24×7)
    • Reduce finished goods and work-in-process inventory.
    • Match production to demand.
    • Find defects when they occur and correct the cause immediately.
    • Maximize asset utilization.
    • One potential risk is the increase in overhead staff because of an increase in the number of supervisors and indirect support personnel.
       
  5. Operate through breaks and lunches
    • Avoid line instability that results in defects and line startup/shutdown costs.
    • Maximize capacity and asset utilization.
       
  6. Insufficient cross-training
    • Waiting to get the right person for the job
    • Not utilizing the potential for on-shift personnel to fill more roles

I’m sure you can come up with more opportunities to add to my list.   

Improving your schedule by addressing sources of waste requires making changes.  Changing schedules is not easy, but it can be done.  Our change process engages the workforce in the schedule evaluation and incorporates their feedback into the best solutions that result in a leaner, more efficient, and productive operation.

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585  to discuss your operations and how we can help you make your schedule leaner, more efficient and more productive. You can also complete our contact form and we will call you.

Workforce Scheduling for Food Manufacturing

Managers of Food Manufacturing operations, you have some very unique challenges that are often not a concern in other types of manufacturing operations.  These are typically issues surrounding seasonality, sanitation, and product mix.  At Shiftwork Solutions, we know how to help you design a shiftwork structure that maximizes your production capacity in spite of these complications.

Over the last 30 years, Shiftwork Solutions has worked with dozens of food manufacturing facilities.  One thing that always strikes us is how complicated their production requirements are.

While a typical manufacturing facility will say “Our overtime is too high” or “We need to increase capacity”, a food manufacturer will use these statements as only a beginning.

In this post, I’m going to cover some of the “Low Hanging Fruit”; those things that we go after when optimizing a food manufacturing plant.

Product Demand: Most food manufacturing facilities experience some degree of variability in their demand.  For example, soft drink demand drops off in the winter while potato chip demand goes up as the Super Bowl approaches.  The questions to answer are: (1) How big is the swing? (2) How predictable is the swing? (3) What are your labor options (Full Time v. Temps v. Overtime)? (4) What is the cost of training v. retaining?  Are you willing to lose skills during a slow time?  If not, what is the cost of keeping them around so they are there when you need them? (5) Can shelf life be used in such a way as to allow leveling out of production? (6) If you have multiple plants, can you keep some higher performers at capacity and allow the poorer performers to handle the variability?

Product Mix: If all lines make the same thing all the time, this is not an issue.  However, this is almost never the case. The questions to answer are: (1) Does line X always take the same amount of people to run when it is running?  If not, what is the variability? (2) Can multiple lines produce the same products or is each line the only line that can make certain products? (3) What is the cost of training your workforce to be able to operate multiple lines?

Sanitation: This is something 100% of food manufacturers must deal with.  A typical solution is “We shut down at night or on the weekend to clean”.  This isn’t a bad idea except for 3 things: (1) Every time you shut down, you must startup.  Start-ups are the least productive times for your lines.  (2) Every time you shut down, you must clean.  Cleaning = labor dollars.  Shut down fewer times you will clean fewer times.  (3) While you are cleaning, you are not producing.  Why shut down for 8 hours (and lose 8 hours of productivity) when you really only need 4 hours?  Scheduling sanitation to occur when you need it and only in the quantities you require will increase equipment availability and decrease labor costs.  Cross-training operators to perform sanitation duties can often be the best solution.

Maintenance: When companies contact us, they are usually capacity constrained.  This means maintenance has been pushed to the very edge of the week – Saturdays and Sundays.  This can result in poor accomplishment rates as mechanics rush to fix everything in a very tight window.  Spreading operations across more days will allow maintenance to be spread out as well.  For example, if you go to a 24/7 production schedule, it does not matter when you take a line down, so take it down when you are able to do your best work.

Other areas that need to be considered are R&D, Quality, Supervision, Distribution, and Planning.  Leave out any of these puzzle pieces and you will not get the complete result you are after.

Let us help you develop a better way to schedule your sanitation.  Use our process of analysis and employee engagement to transform your workplace.

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585 to discuss your operations and how we can help you solve your shift work problems. You can also complete our contact form and we will call you.

The best way to schedule your maintenance crew in a 24/7 operation

Maintenance Managers, you know the drill – Keep the equipment running and still, somehow, get your maintenance done.

On a 5-day schedule, this typically means Maintenance “maintains” during the week and “repairs” during the weekend.

When a plant shifts to 24/7 operations, the first thought of maintenance people is “Where do we go now?”  The weekend, once reserved for maintenance, is now being taken up by production.   Is this the end of preventative maintenance?  Will maintenance now be restricted to small windows of opportunity such as line changeovers?  And the biggest question is “How will we schedule maintenance people when we no longer know when we will have access to equipment?”

To get to these answers we first need to break down maintenance into its three main components: (1) Corrective Maintenance, (2) Preventative Maintenance and (3) Project work.  We will cover all three of these here.

Corrective Maintenance

On a 24/7 operation, everything is running all of the time.  While there are plenty of exceptions to this (change-overs, sanitation, etc.) we’ll consider production to be spread uniformly across all hours for this discussion.

Since corrective maintenance is not “scheduled”, it can be nearly impossible to predict with any accuracy.  Therefore, we should consider an “event” requiring corrective maintenance to be random.  That is to say, it is equally likely to occur at any time during the week.  Under this type of condition, it is best to spread your resources around equally.  From a corrective maintenance perspective, it makes no sense to staff differently on Saturday afternoons than on Wednesday nights.

When it comes to staffing levels, maintenance managers will have to take into account things such as: (1) the likelihood of something breaking down, (2) the opportunity cost of delaying a repair (3) the cost of overstaffing when those people could be used more effectively elsewhere and (4) the availability of additional resources through callouts. Overstaffing the corrective maintenance crew is a mistake often made. Maintenance managers need to realize that there will never be enough people to always ensure there is enough coverage for every possible contingency.  It is better to have an effective plan for augmenting your crew in an emergency.

Preventative Maintenance

Surprisingly, Preventive Maintenance is actually easier to accomplish on a 24/7 schedule than on a 5-day schedule.  On a 5-day schedule, you are essentially committed to “pit stop” maintenance.  You only have a very little window to fix everything so you throw all of your resources at it during that time.  Hopefully, you get enough things fixed so the plant can run well the next week.

On a 24/7 schedule, you still have maintenance to do, but you no longer have to do it all on the weekend.  Now you can spread it out during the week.  For example: instead of trying to repair all production lines on Saturday (typically an impossible task), you now take down one line at a time; leaving the others up and running.  Maintenance personnel rather do preventative maintenance during the day shift on weekdays.  Not only is this the preferred schedule for your people, but it is also when you have the most resources available.  On Monday through Friday day shifts, you will have greater access to vendors, parts suppliers, and engineers.

This all points towards scheduling as much preventative maintenance as possible during Monday through Friday day shift.  Of course, there should always be preventative maintenance assigned to other shifts throughout the week so maintenance people will be productive if there is no corrective maintenance needing their attention.

Project Work

Project Work is like preventative maintenance in that it is best done during the weekdays when the most outside resources are available.  Unlike preventative maintenance, project work often requires several consecutive days or weeks of work to be accomplished.  It is best started, maintained and completed by the same people to minimize any loss of information during turnovers between crews.  To do this, you will want to use 8-hour workdays where the project people come to work and advance the project every day, five days a week.

In summary, maintenance scheduling for a 24/7 operation opens up new opportunities that allow for better schedules for your maintenance employees while improving overall maintenance accomplishment and equipment reliability.

Give us a call today and discuss how we can help you get the most out of your maintenance department in a shiftwork operation.

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585.