Great Scott, Marty! Tomorrow’s Labor Solution will be Integrated!

by | Aug 8, 2011

Back to the Future! Alright, not necessarily a reference to a much revered Michael J. Fox film, but forward a bit in time to see where the market has taken the marriage of two workforce labor solutions: Workforce Management (WFM) and Task Management (TM).


Tomorrow’s labor solution is a tightly integrated TM and WFM solution where real-time adjustments of your labor supply and demand are made possible through the sharing of data, in real-time. The power of this integration creates a comprehensive decision support system that provides store managers with a complete view of their labor and the ability to make informed labor decisions without having to chase the data. Consider the opportunities that this integration enables:


  • Time and Attendance and Task Management: Accurate tracking of total time used to execute selling and non-selling labor enables continuous improvement of task process flow, the tuning of your labor standards, and total task labor cost tracking. 
  • Scheduling and Task Management: WFM scheduling system evaluates tasks that need to be completed including the tasks’ requirements and skills required to execute, identifies what skills are currently available, and schedules accordingly.
  • Attendance Management and Task Management: Attendance updates are passed to the TM solution and determine that recently assigned tasks must be reassigned due to absences; the TM solution automatically assigns these tasks to an available employee(s) working with the same job role.
  • Labor Cost Management and Task Management: Tasks are scheduled by the WFM system and assigned to those employees with lower wage rates (often in retail your higher wage rate employees are your most tenured and best at selling).
  • Forecasting and Task Management: Adjustments to sales forecasts determine more time is required for selling activities; TM adjusts execution priorities to complete high priority tasks while automatically rescheduling less important tasks.


These real-time adjustments to your labor model further optimize your workforce by taking intraday point-of-sale, budget data, and in-store tasks to analyze and make real-time adjustments of store schedules.


From a single software solution, store managers can make better decisions to redistribute labor to achieve optimal selling opportunities and allocate tasks activities without the risk of cannibalizing sales or non-compliant execution of tasks. All while spending less time in the back office and more time where they are most effective: the sales floor.


Why Task Management?


Why does Task Management play such an important role in the future labor solutions? Why should I be concerned with TM when my WFM solution already helps me manage my labor?


Simple: to date, you most likely have only focused on improving half of your labor model. Whether your focus has been on improving your forecasts or reducing labor-cost leakage, the focus has solely been directed at the labor driving sales.


Task Labor, or non-selling labor, is the labor allocated to complete in-store processes like marketing promotions, price changes, receiving, opening and closing activities, inventory recovery, resets and planograms. Think of a store’s task labor as the labor required for all the in-store activities NOT supporting sales and service. Taking a holistic workforce view of TM and WFM, task labor is the other half of your labor model. Using the coin analogy, task and sales driven labor demand comprise each side of the same coin.


Historically, task labor has been addressed by throwing crude estimates of fixed and variable task labor demand into a bucket as opposed to building a bottoms calculated effort using engineered standards. There are a few problems with this approach:


  1. All stores are not created equal. Task activities may have different durations based on their size, product mix, or location.
  2. No prioritization of tasks. Tasks with the least effort are often executed first, while the larger and more time consuming tasks are executed if time and resources permit.
  3. Zero visibility into actual task durations. In the absence of engineered labor standards, task activity durations are nothing more than “swags” or guesses at how much labor it takes to complete non-sales driven activities in the store.


This last point reminds me of a conversation with a previous client where I asked “how long does it take an employee to complete this task?” “About 2 hours” was his response. He then stated, “ask any employee how fast they can complete the task and they’ll tell you 1.5 hours.” This is indicative of the challenge facing many retailers, an absence or visibility of true task durations.


The product development efforts by leading TM vendors are addressing these issues by providing product features that allow store personalization, utilizing standards or drivers in task scheduling engines, and defining or analyzing their clients’ labor standards.


Now, imagine a labor solution that brings balance to your labor model by creating a store level forecast from the bottom up using engineered labor standards for both selling activities and task labor. Labor management and scheduling decisions can now be made with a holistic view of a store’s labor.


A Holistic View of Labor? Not Today.


I started this post with a reference to Back to the Future. At this point, you may think this is more like Groundhog Day. After all, both Task Management and Workforce Management have been around for a while. Aren’t these two solutions integrated already? Can’t you do a lot of this stuff today?


The short answer is “no”. The integration between these WFM and TM is still immature at best. In the best case scenario, integration between the labor forecasting, scheduling and task management allows you to produce a schedule that places reasonably detailed task labor on your schedule and assigns qualified staff to complete the work.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t do you much good in the real world. 


Retail stores are dynamic. Customer demand does not follow the forecast exactly and task labor is sent to the store daily. Couple that with no-shows and call-ins and the schedule you started the week with is rarely the one that is worked. Today’s integrated solutions do not handle real-time changes effectively. That’s the bad news.


The “good news” is that while WFM and TM are not tightly integrated retailers that invest in both solutions get a significant return on investment from them. Automation yields increased visibility to total labor needs, better communication with their stores, labor cost containment, and improved productivity.


The “better news” is that vendors are aware of limits of current integration, and are working to make the sum of these solutions greater than their parts. It is evident to vendors that a wall-to-wall view of all labor in store will empower store managers to make more effective real-time labor decision and adjustments as labor supply and demand change. WFM and TM vendors are increasing their focus and effort into a tighter integration of the two solutions.


Now back in the DeLorean, up to 88 mph and 1.21 gigawatts of power bringing you back to reality and ready to take the first step in balancing your labor model; obtaining the visibility to your true task and selling labor demands.


Today’s guest blogger is Christian Walker.  Christian has 15 years experience working in retail workforce management and task management as both a retailer and a vendor.  Christian is a senior consultant with Axsium and is based in Denver, Colorado. – Bob Clements

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