5 Elegant Tips on How WFM can WFM itself! [ with Templates ] !
Summary: Workforce Management (WFM) excellence in the BPO industry has helped contact centers serve its clients better through providing the “right staff at the right time” recommendations. This post discusses how the same methodologies in WFM can help the WFM Team right staff itself at the right time. The goal is to prevent burn out of WFM folks from WFM staffing deficits on one end, and to avoid excess costs of too many WFM staff on the other.
WFM teams are experts in building short, medium and long term capacity plans to ensure the contact center has enough staffing to meet client service level requirements for the next 3 to 24 months. In this post, we offer 5 tips on how WFM can WFM itself and minimize understaffing or overstaffing. The long-term benefit is a well functioning WFM team that have the “right number of properly skilled WFM people and supporting resources at the right time to handle an accurately forecasted workload, at service level, and with quality”. (borrowing from ICMI on contact center and workforce management definition).
So here are the Five Tips!
1. Forecast the WFM workload and Project the Available WFM staff (Demand and Supply Management)
The end goal is to produce this:
WFM Net Staffing = Projected WFM FTE – Required WFM FTE
(Supply of WFM time) – (Demand for WFM time)
Example: A Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company has a total of 200 Global WFM team members and their total workload is at 8,000 hours weekly. Is the 200 WFM headcount enough to service the 8,000 hours of WFM work expected of it? Do they need to hire? Or are they already overstaffed? Would multi-skilling be needed across Forecasting and Scheduling and Real Time Teams?
In other words, does the Supply match the Demand?
WFM is already an expert in calculating this supply and demand for contact center Operations such as for agents handling inbound calls. WFM would forecast the number of calls per month, per week, per day and per interval. And then do the same for Average Handle Time. The purpose is to get the total amount of work (or workload) that has to be completed by multiplying the calls with the average handle time of each call.
Workload = Calls x Average Handle Time
But for WFM work, an adjustment in the formula is needed given the huge number of task types and the variability of completion time within WFM.
WFM Workload = Sum of ( Tasks x Average Frequency x Average Time to Complete)
Multiplying the tasks by its frequency and the duration to complete results to the total work time requirement to be expected from the WFM team. Unlike calls where historical arrival patterns can be gathered through a telephony system, WFM has to get the information manually. This is not as hard as it seems. (There are available software applications in the market that can more automatically compute the total workload for knowledge work in professional service firms but they still rely in estimated times coming from team members).
Estimating and forecasting work in WFM would need the help and engagement of all WFM staff. It has to be a collaborative effort as well as a top down directive. Explaining the why to all WFM team members is as important as completing this exercise. The attached WFM workload and task list calculator template would help in this process.
Capacity planner workload
Real time analyst workload
Reporting specialist workload
WFM supervisor workload
WFM manager workload
Completing this, the total Workload per week for the entire WFM team would now be available.
Total WFM FTE requirement = Total Workload hours per week
40 hour work week
This would result in your Total Required WFM FTE per week to provide the WFM services at 100% of the expectations. Note that this need is the “demand” for WFM services. Demand management also includes talking to customers and stakeholders on what is necessary work versus what can be removed/delayed if there is a WFM staffing squeeze.
2. Inflate the baseline FTE Requirement for buffers
After calculating the gross WFM workload in hours and converting that to FTE requirement, the next step is to add buffer percentages to it to account for WFM occupancy, absenteeism (planned and unplanned) and offline activities (yes, WFM folks also need some training and coaching time).
- Occupancy – in a customer care contact center, the Erlang B or C queue traffic calculation is used to determine FTE requirements as this would factor in the randomness of call arrival patterns. Pure workload calculation (calls x AHT) may dictate, as an example) require only 100 FTE but given the random call arrival and service level goals, the organization would have to have more than just 100 FTE to properly service the calls. The occupancy output of an Erlang calculation would generally be around 75% to 90% occupancy but would still depend on a campaign call arrival pattern, huge vs small headcount and other factors.
In WFM, a similar approach to buffer up the WFM FTE requirement is also needed given the characteristics of the WFM work queue – WFM has multiple tasks, the service level is not counted in seconds but in hours or in days; the duration of each task is very variable, there are also ad hoc tasks that comes in to the picture unexpectedly, WFM has multiple functional areas that can work on common tasks, cross-trained staff availability and others. Given this, Pollaczek-Khintchine (P-K) work queue traffic calculation is the most appropriate method. This is beyond the scope of this post but you can google it of course. Suffice to say that a 90% occupancy has to be factored in (creating a 10% WFM availability factor) to ensure tasks are completed on time per the dynamic of the said calculation. Proof of this 90% occupancy “recommended” assumption in WFM work would be handled in a future post. Be assured though that factoring this one would still result in WFM members to still be actually busy 100% of the time; as the said availability allowance is because of the nature of said work queue per the Pollaczek-Khintchine equation; the benefit being work is would actually be completed on time.
- Off-line activities – WFM team members from WFM managers to forecasters to schedulers to real time traffic analysts all need time for training, coaching, breaks, HR, teaching activities, innovation and/or process improvement time. Each company would have a different culture but a basic requirement is at least once a week 30 minute coaching time, 2 hours of formal training per month, and 2.5 hours of paid break per week based on a 40 hour work week.
- Shrinkages – planned and unplanned absenteeism – calculate based on the tenure and leave credit policy of the company
- Time out to train new WFM folks – Given the nature of WFM knowledge, schedulers have to be given time to train new schedulers to the scheduling system. Real time analysts need to teach new folks on the use of spreadsheets and updating of real time reports.
Pro Tip: The level of experience of a team as well as the number of new team members and the complexity of campaigns require additional buffers. Campaigns that are fast ramping up would need some extra staff given the expected volatility of the incoming workload. Campaigns with multiple and overlapping Line of Businesses can make it difficult for WFM personnel and hence, the need to factor this in when inflating the baseline WFM FTE requirement.
Pro Note: 40 hours Max per week per WFM FTE is recommended for this process to be optimal. If WFM team members are allowed to start flexing and just insert urgent tasks and start doing overtime, not taking lunch breaks, working on weekends, etc, then this would hide the true work being done. Similar to a contact center, if the Telephony or VOIP system does not correctly capture the true staff time that each contact center agent contributes, then this would create inaccurate forecasting. Remember both the demand of the work as well as the supplier of the work has to be in balance based on accurate information.
WFM directors, in collaboration with internal customers, are key in building rules and weekly discussions on what tasks has to be done and what can be removed to allow a steady match of demand and supply from WFM managers to WFM front line staff per the WFM Workload calculation template discussed in Step 1 above.
3. Building the staffing and capacity plan with projected WFM FTE
Projected WFM FTE:
The Projected FTE per week would be calculated next. This is the “supply” side of WFM services. This is for each level of WFM support from Real time analyst to scheduler to capacity planner to workforce manager requirements.
Almost all in WFM are full time so WFM headcount would match FTE count. But in the capacity plan template here, we have included a row for part-time WFM as we are seeing this can become a big-part of WFM as work becomes more seasonal and fluctuating and temporary increases in workload can happen.
In projected WFM FTE, these are the things to consider:
- WFM attrition: Given the current market challenge for WFM talent, each company would have historical data on WFM attrition. For current WFM team members, it would be best if management can tag as red if a high risk of attrition, yellow at medium risk and green if fully productive and happy in the current company. This would allow a probabilistic approach to attrition that would also be factored in the WFM FTE Capacity plan.
- Time to hire : Can be 1 to 2 months for lower levels but as high as 3 to 5 months for higher level WFM jobs. Coordination with the recruitment team and getting commitments on WFM new hire start date would help.
- Training Time: Include time to onboard, time to train to a new technical system (Aspect, Excel, NICE IEX, Teleopti, Verint ). For agents this is called product training and nesting time. Given the nature of WFM work, classroom training of 3 days can cover the basics for the specific role but the 2 weeks can cover on-the-job training.
Pro tip: Seasonality – consider peak seasons such as promotional weeks or holidays where additional temporary WFM help may be needed. This can come from agents or even Team leaders of an overstaffed program. Aside from helping WFM, a side benefit is Operations and other groups would be able to engage with WFM and better understand its challenges. Talent sourcing of new WFM folks can also come from these temporary help as some may realize that being in WFM is really great work. During peak seasons as well, it may be more difficult to hire WFM staff and so factor this in the probability of hire as well.
The goal is to balance the WFM “Net Staff” on a weekly basis.
4. Determine the WFM staffing deficit and its impact on the client, employee and financial aspects
This is one part that is critical on how WFM can WFM itself. In Operations, having a staffing deficit at the agent level has highly visible impact such as failing service levels and high absenteeism and attrition due to agent burn out – which would then impact client satisfaction due to long customer wait times and impact financials as high shrinkages and attritions impact the bottom line with its impact on recruitment, training and managerial costs of high employee turn over.
Impacts to include:
Accountability standards – there is a unique balance between accountability and forgiveness as WFM work is complex and varied – that the measure of performance and standard across campaigns are not etched in stone. The more WFM staffing deficit one has, the harder for WFM managers to maintain a high level of work standards due to a fear (conscious or unconscious) of losing more staff and the manager becoming more stressed and needing to do more work; and so forgiveness (rather than accountability) sets in.
Penalties from failing service levels – Enter the financial impact of WFM staffing deficit or surplus
Hidden cost of poor scheduling – when schedulers rush a shift bid or rush analyzing the Intraday Net Staffing for the next 3 weeks – this can impact agent morale, service levels and real time analyst work (they have to compensate in real time for poor scheduling)
Managers doing the leg work and not having time to actually manage.
Mismatch of capacity plan assumptions requiring Operations to adjust ( reduce coaching or team meeting time). The impact would be on client metrics and employee perception but this would be a hidden indirect cost of poor WFM planning due to inadequate WFM planners. A company may think it saved P 30,000 for not having a planner for a month but loses P 100,000 due to
Lost of agent productive hours -no RTA means a lot of seepage happening across the day especially. Senior leaders would not observe this as numbers get aggregated. 3% abandoned calls vs 3.1% abandoned calls may seem small in the short run but would accumulate in the long run in terms of customer dissatisfaction.
5. Schedule your WFM to the peak demand requirements
Scheduling WFM work is one of the easiest among the “WFM process” as most work requirements are not at the per interval but at the end of day level; sometimes at end of week.
WFM manager – schedule based on client meeting times and where the bulk of direct reports are scheduled. The attached template would help.
WFM scheduler – schedule based on Ops manager and Team leads core coverage time. Schedulers need some time to do and not be disturbed so one practice is for schedulers to be 3 hours not overlapping an OM’s schedule.
WFM capacity planner – schedule based on senior leaders schedule.
WFM forecaster – schedule based on the preference of the forecaster.
WFM Real time – this is where the most important part of scheduling is. Off peak hours to consider any unexpected absenteeism. Any excess staff due to buffer when the buffer is not needed can do off peak WFM work ( ex. break optimization for the following week)
6. Real Time Monitor the work based on Standards and the Workload File
This is one of the least appreciated “task” of a WFM manager. Many WFM managers have to do the forecasting, capacity planning, scheduling and even real time monitoring work themselves that they miss to monitor if the standard processes are being followed or are being short cut by the WFM staff.
Flagging WFM folks who are not “adhering” to the processes results in 2 practices
a.) Understand why the process is not followed
b.) Build a better process that would make it easier to follow.
7. Loop back and get feedback and Continuously update assumptions.
The accuracy of Capacity planning assumptions is the bedrock of WFM strategic success.
In between the calculation of WFM Workload up to the net WFM FTE surplus/deficit calculation are a lot of assumptions built in.
This is probably one reason why WFM does not have the time to WFM itself for many companies as this takes a lot of work in the first phase. But the benefit would accrue over the medium-term as WFM sees a well functioning group with lower attritions from less burn-out as the right staff is there at the right place and at the right time!