Dear WFM System, It’s not you, it’s me.

by | Aug 1, 2014

Well maybe it is you…It doesn’t seem to take very long for organizations to become dissatisfied with their WFM solution. On the surface, I think a lot of retailers assume that they have outgrown their solution because their business has evolved more quickly than the technology. In some cases, I’m sure this is part of the problem, but I think more commonly the seeds of dissatisfaction are sown early on in the project, and only come to light once the project moves into sustainment. I’d like to explore the root cause of that dissatisfaction and offer up a potential remedy for organizations who find themselves in this unfortunate situation. Below are two of the most common causes of dissatisfaction with WFM systems. While there are others, these two and their variants account for a great deal of organization discontent.

Strategic Disconnect

I had an interesting conversation recently with a fellow consultant that illustrated to me some of the common problems and misperceptions of WFM systems post go-live. During the conversation we discussed the disconnect between the strategic vision that WFM steering committee is working towards, and the day to day work of the project team.

The disconnect occurs when the strategic vision stops at the business case, and fails to deliver a blueprint of how the organization will work differently with new tools and processes. This often leaves an under supported team required to sustain the implementation. The team struggles to keep up with the week in and week out tasks of using the WFM system to manage the workforce and never gets beyond the basics. They fight fires and create work-arounds to perceived system issues because there is little time to explore issues more thoroughly. Under these circumstances it’s easy to see how a WFM system can feel like a burden rather than an asset.

It’s not too late to reset the strategy. The important piece to this is executive sponsorship of sufficient authority and visibility to drive the change of behaviour and the support for a new way of operating. As the strategy moves through the organization it needs to impact everything that touches the workforce, and quite frankly that’s a lot. Things that make a tangible impact on the employee experience need to be aligned with a larger WFM strategy. Business processes, policies, roles and accountabilities need to be dusted off, and aligned to the new way of doing things.

This sort of strategic rebuild will raise organizational awareness and develop buy in to what behaviours are expected. It will also reduce a great deal of firefighting that is the by-product of ambiguous policy or process or both, freeing up the support team to concentrate on higher value opportunities.

Garbage In Garbage Out

This might be the most common trap in WFM implementations and I know why it happens. Typically the first time an organization implements a WFM system, they are automating and centralizing a scheduling process that exists in the brains of hundreds of store managers. The important part of this process that is lost in translation is how to define the store labor model. Consolidating that tribal knowledge into a WFM system without a clear vision leads to a lot of ‘playing’ within the system. Some employee groups appear too hard to schedule. Managers are conspicuously exempt from WFM forecasting and scheduling followed by certain tasking and merchandising roles.  In an effort to generate a schedule that aligns to a manager’s expectations, every dial is turned and tweaked often store by store, until one of the core benefits of a WFM system – generating accurate equitable schedules that best position employees to serve customers – is lost.

So what does that clear vision look like? First stores should be clustered together by common attributes to create store profiles. This could look like a store format, volume bands or other definable attributes. This can be managed by spreadsheets and data bases, but there are robust solutions that greatly simplify this process. Secondly, the labor model needs to be broken down into its component parts and measured in order to translate each service element or task into the WFM system. Lastly, the appropriate data drivers need to be pointed at the labor standards that are the building blocks of the labor model to produce a forecast and schedule.

Ideally this blueprint would have been followed during implementation, but there is no time like the present. Pull together a task force that can capture all of the services and tasks that make up the labor model, and then explore the engineering tools and methods available to retailers to measure each element. All of the best of breed WFM solutions can absorb labor standards to one degree or the other, and once an organization sees how an accurately defined labor model fed by appropriate drivers impacts store forecasts and schedules the importance on maintaining and refreshing them becomes obvious.

A variant that sits in between Strategic Disconnect and Garbage in Garbage out is overly fussy or poorly thought through system configuration. This typically happens because policies and business processes are poorly defined and there is no imperative within the project to look at them differently. There are also no eyes on the road ahead to ensure the configuration can reasonably stand the test of time. The result is these poorly defined processes become grandfathered into the WFM configuration generating future pain points and sucking up energy with work arounds and firefighting.

As with the problem, the solution also sits in the middle of the two outcomes above. A strategic vision that drives a review and revision of the status quo coupled with the ability to breakdown the labor model and define it accurately and translate it into a WFM system. Organizations contemplating an upgrade to the latest version of their WFM system, should jump at the opportunity to look at their business critically and break out of the status quo.






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