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Blog: The holiday period is coming –  Capacity planning for winter surges

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As the nights start to draw in earlier and cold mornings creep up on us, summer holiday planning may seem like a distant memory.

Though the sunny days have not completely abandoned us yet, it is time to pause and review how well your firm’s summer resourcing and outsourcing plans endured. Were your demand forecasts accurate? Did the unusually hot weather impact resource levels? What lessons can be learned and how will this affect preparations for the end of the year?

Spending time with your team to understand return on investment and the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s plan will prepare your business to meet the challenges of the year to come. Not only that, it will get your team into the right mindset for putting together plans for year-end. Positivity is often drawn from looking back at past successes, helping drive teams forward to ‘one-up’ their own efforts.

There is so much to consider during the final months of the calendar year that it is easy to become focused on just one or two key metrics, the most predictable being ‘how many staff will need to work Christmas Day?’

It’s never too early to start planning

When planning ahead for challenging periods in which capacity will be stretched to its limits, there are a number of major factors to consider:

Reviewing MI early 

Crucial to any forward planning effort is looking back at past data to analyse the trends that could help you predict the challenges likely to be faced in future months. A firm’s management information (MI) will be central to this understanding; being a measurement of expectations as compared to outcomes drawn from multiple perspectives (financials, performance, customer outcomes, and so on).

This mix of qualitative and quantitative data tells your management team where future resource should be utilised in order to either bolster previously lacking areas or transfer resource from over-invested areas.

Think back to what happened over the last year. How well was your team able to respond to customer complaints, for example? How many complaints were effectively handled without exerting your resource base? These questions should be starting points from which to start conversations with the team immediately around you, as well as other internal stakeholders.

Understanding the perspective of individuals and managers across the organisation will provide a much more valuable picture of your current resource issues or successes. As well as improving your strategy for this year, early engagement will ensure everyone is bought into the plan and will help you deliver it.

Planning for the unexpected

Resource planning can sometimes feel more like an art than a science, with countless possible determining factors, disruptions and unexpected boosts to contend with. Every individual within a team, whether they be a contractor or permanent employee, will be living their own unique lives with their own complications. Sometimes, things just happen that people have no control over. While a resource planner cannot possibly account for every potential eventuality for the sometimes hundreds of staff under their scope, when considering the winter months and holiday period, there are a few things we can predict.

It will be important to consider external factors that could affect capacity in your operation, such as holidays and the cold weather. How do you plan resources effectively if you don’t know whether roads will be iced-over, or trains delayed? Consider employees’ ability to work from home in the eventuality of transport becoming unusable. It may be hard to imagine snow and sleet at the moment, but it never hurts to be prepared.

If the thought of an empty office buffeted by rain and snow is of concern, think of what actions you could take to improve multi-skilling – that is, training staff to take up multiple roles as a ‘back up’ should the worst occur – and whether or not this investment would be worth making in your specific circumstance. It may be necessary, in the end, to recruit additional or deploy temporary resource to mitigate any projected shortfall.

Ultimately, you’ll be aiming to create a ‘playbook’ of ‘what-if’ scenarios that you can model and pre-empt as part of an action plan. This project will involve identifying who could be drawn on for short-term support in the event of an issue. It’s much easier to do this proactively than in the ‘heat of battle’. The difficult part of this will be agreeing the priority order with all key stakeholders.

A technological solution could also help create additional capacity within your organisation, as well as deliver long-term costs savings, despite an initial investment.

An external council that is far removed from your business unit could serve to independently validate your thinking and ask the ‘obvious’ questions which you may be too close to to ask.

Being ‘business ready’

Once you have reviewed forecast demand and matched resource levels with your expectations for the season, think about what else you can prepare to make your year-end as smooth as possible. Some common considerations include:

  • Holiday allowance usage – Do you have the opportunity to manage shrinkage and avoid a balloon of holiday-taking hitting at the end of the year?
  • Are your Interactive Voice Response phone systems updated in line with seasonal opening hours?
  • Are there savings to be made by reducing facility opening hours?
  • Are you aware of anything in a business area outside of your own that could have an impact on your team? For example, is anyone offering promotions, sending out mailers, and so on?
  • Are season-specific service-level agreements published both internally and externally so that all relevant stakeholders are well-informed and up to date?
  • Are your systems prepared for the new year? For example: schedules ready, holiday allowances loaded, next year’s objectives set, and so on.
  • What support and management cover could be put in place and who will have to remain on call (and for how long)?

While it may feel a little too early to start thinking about the upcoming holiday season – or that you may feel like you do not have time during this, no-doubt, busy period – a proper review of capacity ahead of the winter months need not take long. The effort and planning invested at this stage will surely pay dividends in the months to come.

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