7 Steps on How WFM can WFM itself! [ with Template ] !
Summary: Workforce Management (WFM) excellence in the Business Process Outsourcing industry has helped contact centers serve its clients better through providing the “right staff with the right skill at the right time” recommendations. This article discusses how the same methodologies can help the WFM Team right staff itself consistently throughout the year. The goal is to prevent burnout of WFM folks from WFM staffing deficits on one end, and to avoid excess costs of too many WFM staff, on the other end.
WFM teams are experts in building short, medium and long term staffing plans (also called capacity or strategic workforce plans) to ensure the contact center has enough staffing to meet service level goals for the next 3 to 24 months. In this article, we offer 7 steps on how WFM can “WFM” itself and minimize understaffing or overstaffing within the WFM department.
The long-term benefit is a well functioning WFM team that have the “right number of properly skilled WFM folks 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 Seven Steps!
Step 1. Forecast the WFM workload
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 the current workload demand is at 8,000 hours weekly. Is the 200 WFM headcount enough to service the said 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 the expert in calculating this supply and demand for the contact center such as for agents handling inbound calls or chats. 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 for the contact center.
Workload = Calls x Average Handle Time
But for the WFM work itself, an adjustment in the formula is needed to consider the high number of task types, the frequency of doing the task, and the variability of completion time., an adjustment in the formula is needed to consider the high number of task types, the frequency of doing the task, and the variability of completion time.
WFM Workload = Task x Average Time to Complete the Task x Average Frequency per Time Period
Multiplying the WFM tasks by the average time to complete and by the frequency (depending on the time period) results in 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 comes from a manual tracker of tasks or a semi-automated desktop monitoring tool. (There are already many available software applications in the market that can automatically compute the total workload for knowledge work, common in professional service firms, but there is always a need for some manual validation by WFM team members given task and tool imperfections).
It goes without saying that 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. Explaining to everyone why this is needed before the review starts allows everyone to buy into the “why”. Here is the link for the template of a WFM Team members staffing plan. The sample workload of a given WFM team is calculated. Note that different contact centers and Business Process Outsourcing companies have varied ways on how they structure their WFM teams and how the tasks are allocated. This is just a sample to assist you in quickly building the plan and then modify accordingly.
Capacity planner workload
Real time traffic analyst workload
Reporting analyst workload
WFM Tools admin workload
WFM Ticket processor workload
WFM Seats planner workload
WFM manager workload
The sample file template shows a weekly frequency time period. The calendar week is a good reference point on WFM workload as most WFM tasks are done within a week. There are of course half-hourly, daily, monthly, quarterly tasks but converting and then averaging them to a weekly frequency allows the staffing plan to guide you at the weekly level. Weekly is also a great time period for staffing plans as holidays, peak and off-peak WFM workload periods can be properly accounted for.
Completing these, 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 meeting 100% of the demand expectations. Note that this need is based on the “demand” for WFM services. Demand for WFM services can change and can be flexible in times of a WFM staffing squeeze (for whatever cause). Demand management includes talking to Operations, clients, customers and/or stakeholders on what is immediately necessary and important work versus what can be removed/delayed or de-prioritized.
2. Inflate the Gross or baseline WFM FTE Requirement for buffers
After calculating the gross WFM workload in hours and converting that to Gross WFM FTE requirement, the next step is to add buffer percentages to account for WFM work occupancy, offline shrinkages (yes, WFM folks also need pre-plotted coaching and training time) and off work absenteeism (planned and unplanned) and similar.
- Occupancy – in a customer care contact center, the Erlang C, A, B queue traffic calculation is used to determine FTE requirements as this would factor in the randomness of call arrival patterns (via Poisson distribution). Pure workload calculation (calls x AHT) may dictate 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 give the buffer needed to factor into the capacity plan and this is generally around 75% to 95% occupancy but would depend on a lot of factors such as account headcount, peak arrival patterns, hours of operation and others.
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. One solution is the Pollaczek-Khintchine (P-K) work queue traffic calculation and may be the more appropriate method. (This is beyond the scope of this article. Granting that WFM is “knowledge work” and the work cannot be simplified mathematically without losing important information from the variability and complexity of it, suffice to say that I would recommend a 95% occupancy to be factored in (creating a 5% WFM availability factor) to ensure tasks are completed on time per the dynamic of the work. 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; the benefit being work would actually be completed on time.
- Offline shrinkages – WFM team members from WFM managers to forecasters to capacity planners to schedulers to real time traffic analysts all need time for coaching training, breaks, HR, teaching activities, innovation and/or process improvement time. Each company would have a different culture and shrinkage allowances but a basic requirement is at least once a week 30 minute coaching time (one-to-one), 1 hour WFM team meeting, 2 to 4 hours of formal/informal/on-the-job training time per month, and 2.5 hours of paid break per week based on a 40 hour work week.
- Off work Shrinkages – planned and unplanned absenteeism – calculate this based on the leave credit policies of the company, tenure group composition and historical WFM absenteeism for each job role.
- Time out to train new WFM folks – Given the nature of WFM knowledge as well as the common changing of team members, it would be best if each WFM team member has to be given time for peer to peer coaching. 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 and so on. There are various tools that new WFM has to be onboarded – HR tool, reporting tool, ticketing tool, payroll timekeeping tool, WFM scheduling tool, group chat tools (g-chat, slack, skype, teams), Telephony tool, online learning tool, list of links, organizational chart, company values, HR policies, WFM policies on leave applications, VL and VTO slots, and it would be difficult for all these to be crammed in a once in a job onboarding session.
Pro Tip: The level of experience of a team as well as the number of new team members and the complexity of campaigns may require additional FTE buffers. Campaigns that are fast ramping up may also 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 to service and hence, the need to factor this to check if there is a need to further increase the baseline WFM FTE requirement. Furthermore, WFM teams expecting more than the usual attritions should proactively pool or train additional heads to minimize the impact of the burnout-attrition cycle.
3. Build the WFM Team Members Staffing Plan with projected WFM FTE
The said attached template includes this.
Projected WFM FTE:
The Projected WFM FTE per week would be calculated next. This is the “supply” side of WFM services. This is needed for each level of WFM support from real time analyst to scheduler to capacity planner to workforce manager requirements.
Most in WFM work full time so the WFM headcount would match the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) of this headcount. But please feel free to add additional rows to account for any part-timers. In the future, WFM gig work as well as part-timers may become more common as work becomes more seasonal with fluctuating and temporary increases in workload requiring some part-time WFM to assist during peak times.
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, one practice is to tag each WFM personnel as red if at high risk of attrition in the next 3 months, yellow at medium risk and green if fully productive and happy with the current company. This would allow a probabilistic approach to attrition that would also be factored in the WFM staffing plan.
- Time to hire : Can be 1 to 2 months for lower levels but can be 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 ). In Operations, onboarding is called product training and nesting time. Given the nature of WFM work, a combination of on-the-job training and classroom training may be covered in 1 to 3 weeks time but also dependent on the job role, peer coaching time, and availability of documented training aids and/or online modules.
Pro tip: Seasonality – onsider 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 work and 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.
Account as well for special considerations such as projected WFM movements (in and out) and long-term leave of absences to be sure accuracy of the WFM FTE projections.
4. Determine the WFM staffing surplus or deficit and its impact on employees, client, Operations, financials and expectations
After Steps 1 to 3 are completed, analyze the resulting WFM Net Staffing. You would soon notice that Steps 1 to 3 is an iterative process. The goal is to constantly balance the WFM “Net Staff” on a weekly basis and to proactively plan to hire or onboard new WFM team members, or in cases of non short-term overstaffing, to offer alternative sources of work or even plan for right-sizing the WFM team.
In Operations, having a staffing deficit at the agent level has a 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 turnover. In Workforce Management, the impact can be similar such as WFM staff burnout to high retention costs to “bored” WFM team members if the team is overstaffed (and the associated negative behaviors of “bored” employees).
5. Schedule WFM folks to the peak and off peak demand requirements
Given we now have the right number of right skilled WFM resources available at the right time, it is time to schedule each WFM team member.
Scheduling WFM work is generally easier than scheduling agents as most WFM work requirements are at the per day and not at the per interval level but given the low headcount in WFM compared to agents, it can also be tricky to schedule to provide enough coverage. A balance is needed where WFM team members within an account see each other the most number of hours but also to be able to cover important meetings, times of day and deliverable timelines.
The below are just guidelines per WFM job role and would differ depending on company culture, WFM team structure, time zone coverage and/or management’s span of control.
Workforce manager – schedule based on Operations and client meeting times and where the bulk of his or her direct reports are scheduled.
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 Operations Manager’s schedule.
Capacity planner – schedule based on core schedules of senior Operational leaders, recruitment lead, training manager, and other main decision makers and to consider client time zones and their core office time.
Forecaster – schedule based on the forecast deliverable timeline and preference of the forecaster. If a company would be big (or lucky) enough to have a dedicated Forecaster, usage of data science tools, qualitative methods and advanced time series forecasting processes would require the Forecaster some flexibility on his or her time schedule but with clear accountability on the expected outcomes of work time spent and schedule a time to present the findings during core hours of the decision makers.
Real time traffic analyst – this is where the most tedious part of WFM scheduling would be for WFM team members. The real time team has proportionally more team members given the need for operating hours coverage. Add in buffers during off peak hours to consider any unexpected absenteeism and break times. Any excess staff during off peak times due to the said buffers can be utilized to do administrative and other repetitive tasks (ex. break optimization for the following week).
Additionally, schedule the team with focus on the peak hours where service level is at the most critical; and to consider times when there is less Operations management presence or times or during high volume periods, such as lunchtime or Fridays, tailored to the specific characteristics of the account.
For companies that have a dedicated WFM reporting analyst, WFM Tools Admin, WFM ticket processor and/or WFM seat planners, scheduling them would also be based on deliverables and their timelines; noting some flexibility of schedules inherent in the employee retention side.
6. Real Time Monitor the work based on the planned workload and the agreed upon standards
Efforts into forecasting, staff planning and scheduling of WFM team members would be in vain without proper real time monitoring of the work. This is the responsibility of both the WFM manager and his/her direct report.
Real time monitoring the work is not micro-management. It is simply management. Each one (the manager and his/her direct report) has an obligation to do his or her best and monitoring productivity and the fulfilling of agreements and completion of deliverables is part of this. The real time monitoring of the work is an ongoing conversation between the manager and his/her direct report to see what methods work best. Some may need the use of desktop movement monitoring tools and some may just need a simple weekly one on one meeting. There are various options to accomplish this real time monitoring that considers both the company’s goals as well as the employee’s characteristics and style of working. The end goal is to provide the results and how this is done on a random, or an hour by hour or day to day or week to week basis is an ongoing conversation (a reiteration).
Effective workforce management requires a thorough understanding of the various tasks and responsibilities involved, including forecasting, capacity planning, and scheduling. While WFM managers may in some companies and cases be responsible for completing these tasks themselves, it is crucial for them to also ensure that real-time monitoring of the tasks is conducted to assess adherence to established standards. If standards are not being followed, to assess why; to think of a better standard or process; or to manage the team member’s performance. Hence, the real time monitoring process of WFM’s work is also an essential aspect of a successful WFM team.
7. Loop back and get feedback and Continuously update assumptions.
The WFM cycle is a loop. The diagram below shows the main flow. (There are 7 steps in this article but note that
It is a continuous check from forecasting to staff planning to scheduling to real time monitoring and then the cycle repeats.
Regular validation (ex. once every 3 months) and forecasting of WFM Workload helps in anticipating any hiring needs as well as excess staff. And the cycle continues.
Workforce management teams are proficient in creating and implementing the WFM cycle that aligns with the needs of their partners, customers, and clients. By ensuring consistent staffing levels throughout the year, these plans help to meet service level objectives in contact centers and other business processing outsourcing environments. Additionally, for the workforce management team to effectively manage its own workforce, it is essential to maintain consistency in its own WFM staffing levels and meet internal service level goals. While these internal service level objectives may not always be explicitly defined, operational leaders and clients expect a high standard of service when it comes to delivering on these workforce management tasks. Lower attritions within WFM due to less probability of burn-out from inadequate staffing as well as financial cost control from overstaffing are the added benefits of this process.
For comments and questions, let’s connect via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonathanmesinalim/