Turning ideas into products part 4 - Hilton HPS

An ugly duckling turning into a swan

I worked with a company more recently that had failed to recognise the problems that were being aggravated by a poor operational workforce planning process. Establishing that a lack of skills was a major factor was a key learning for me. It would have a major influence on my next steps.

In this business I spent some time with a trainee Industrial Engineer organising work plans for the short, medium and long terms. We decided that it would be useful to spend some time in each department looking at processes and taking some measurements of task times, using time and motion studies. A few months later we had accumulated a lot of information, some of which we would use to drive process improvement activity. With the task times that we had calculated we decided to see whether we could use them to ‘enhance’ the existing operational workforce planning process.

**** data in, ****data out

This business had grown rapidly over the previous few years and new systems and automation had been incorporated into the site. When I started to try to make sense of the planning process it was clear that it had not kept up with the developments in the operating model. The excel spreadsheet used for planning was over-simplified because of a lack of Industrial Engineering expertise.  There wasn’t the knowledge or skills in the team to be able to breakdown each department into a series of tasks. The targets used to calculate the workload in the departments were not based on any science or observations. They were provided by the operations teams, and in some cases where new equipment had been implemented were simply estimates that were never verified.

I also found a number of errors in the calculation steps across a series of spreadsheets that were used in the process. There were data entry errors (false information in the raw data) and formula errors (e.g. mis-matches between the description of a total and the range defined in a formula). There were also look up and cell references that were no longer synchronised because the original formulas had not been defined correctly. It was clear that the output from the process was false and mis-leading. This despite the total reliance on the planning team to deliver a regular weekly forecast of operational manpower requirements for agency labour.

Starting again

Originally I had thought that the new task times we had calculated could be incorporated into the existing model. It was soon clear that I would have to start again from scratch and build a new model. I don’t need to go into all of the details of the re-building process, but it wasn’t just formula errors that I had identified;

  • a number of policy changes were integrated into the new model to correct errors in the way that holidays, absences, attrition, training and unproductive time were accounted for
  • volume flows were corrected to eliminate double counting across some departments
  • all of the estimated metrics were re-validated.

The overall difference was a reduction in required hours of around 15%.

When I got to the stage of handing over the new model I would have liked to recommend a training course for the members of the planning team. It would be a way of seeing ‘what good looks like’, and upgrading their skills. However, my research failed to come up with any options. I covered as much ground as could with the planning team in the remaining time of the contract. It was at this point when I began to think about filling that gap myself. I would attempt to put together my own guide to developing operational workforce planning tools.

Next time, I start working on my plan.