What is a schedule conflict? Definition
Scheduling conflicts includes all the situations when an employee's time is scheduled in a way that makes it impossible for them to perform their duties in a productive manner - or even perform them at all.
Importantly, the phrase “scheduling conflicts” refers not only to the overlapping allocations - although this is the most popular case for service companies. The schedule can also be conflicted with an employee's work-life balance, for example, when they are supposed to come to work on their day off.
Examples of schedule conflict
Of course, the list of examples of schedule conflict does not end here. The most popular problems with work plans include:
- overlapping allocations - for example, working on two projects at the same or working in two different locations in the same shift, with no time for commute included in the plan,
- overtime - it may be caused by several different reasons, including staff shortage, shift swapping, lack of other people with certain skills, or one of the employees taking a sick leave,
- assigning the work to an employee on a day off they requested, or on a public holiday.
Types of scheduling conflicts and how to handle them
Schedule conflict may come in different shapes and sizes. Here is how the most popular of them can be defined and subsequently solved.
The most popular type of schedule conflict involves overlapping allocations. It is particularly common in IT companies where a single employee is involved in multiple projects - and suddenly he is assigned to work in both on the same day. It is also a problem for businesses that manage mobile workforce.
How to handle overlapping allocations?
There is one simple solution to the problem of overlapping allocations: having an overview of all of them.
A project scheduling tool, or any other tool that shows the allocation of the employees can help you spot double bookings and react to them before they result in no work being done on time. Of course, to be successful, such a tool should gather the information from the entire company; only then any problems will be visible right away.
When someone is feeling sick or has a family emergency, taking a day off is simply inevitable. However, while such a situation is particularly unpleasant for the employee, it also poses a challenge for their manager. Here’s how to face this issue.
How to handle last-minute cancellations?
First of all, try to prevent unexpected absences whenever possible. If you see that some of the last-minute cancellations form a certain pattern, introduce a policy that specifies when such an absence should be reported. That will give you some more time to handle the situation and find a replacement.
However, last-minute cancellations are some kind of emergencies more often than not, and they simply cannot be reported a few hours in advance. To deal with them quickly and with no delays to the project, we once again recommend you to use a dedicated tool - such as Primetric. With them, you can simply click on the existing allocation and find a replacement for it, or extend the allocations for other specialists.
Booking unavailable employees
Imagine that you are walking into the office on one summer morning and you discover that some of the employees are not in their seats - they simply went off on a holiday. This happens more than you think, especially in companies that have no visibility of their employees’ absences - and this is the problem that should be solved in the first place.
How to deal with booking unavailable employees?
Before you schedule a person for a given period, you should first check that this specialist is really available. To do that, you shouldn’t have to speak to them directly - word of mouth isn’t really a binding contract, isn’t it? Instead, you should use a dedicated tool that includes the information on:
- public holidays,
- individual time offs,
- other obligations, including internal work and other allocations.
All the information should be displayed in an intuitive form - for example, in a calendar or a Gantt chart. Then, while making an allocation, you will see all the absences in the same bar. Additionally, in some tools, such as Primetric, you can also be notified when an allocation is affected by a planned absence - they could make your work even easier!
Overtimes are one of the most dreaded types of schedule conflict, as they usually result in discontent and negative impact on employees’ morale. Therefore, they should be avoided at all costs.
But how to do that?
How to deal with overtimes?
First, you need to realize that the overtimes are there in the first place. Importantly, they may not necessarily be included in the project timeline - they may also appear out of nowhere, whenever a need for working late arises. Therefore, you need a time tracking tool to show you exactly who is working overtime, and for what projects.
Then, try to identify the problem behind this schedule conflict. Usually they include:
- incorrect estimates for a project,
- lack of specialists with certain skills or unexpected vacancies,
- delays in projects,
- unexpected situations, for example last-minute absences.
After that, try to solve the problems that affect your schedules most.
Of course, some problems, such as personal emergencies, are simply inevitable; therefore, you should leave some room in the project schedule in case they occur. By doing so, project managers can ensure that in the worst case scenario, the project will be finished earlier.
Sometimes you start scheduling a project right before it starts and you see that there’s simply no one in the company that matches the requirements in the task. Such short staffing has a negative impact on your project - here’s how to deal with it.
How to manage short staffing?
To manage short staffing, you need to improve your resource forecasting processes. To do so, you need to:
- define the resources you need when a project scope is created,
- report the vacancies right after they are spotted, or expected to appear,
- increase the number of new hirings,
- predict the changes in the demand and act accordingly.
How to prevent schedule conflict in the first place?
To prevent schedule conflict from ever occurring, you first need to improve your project scheduling and spot the issues before they affect your projects.
Identify the stakeholders
In every company, there are numerous managers that care about allocation of employees. However, not every one of them should be involved in every allocation!
To prevent the decision from being lost in a dozens of voices, you need to find out which people should really be involved in the decision making process. In case of resource allocation, this usually includes:
- other project managers that already work on similar projects, or are in the process of planning them,
- COOs or PMOs with a general knowledge of the project, their requirements and importance,
- HR specialists who can manage vacancies and other formal problems,
- Sales Manager who can tell others more about incoming projects and predict what resources might be needed in the future. On the other hand, he can also prepare the budget for a customer using the knowledge from other managers.
Create a reliable process
However, finding the right people for the resource allocation process is not enough for the process to be successful. Of course, there are no two companies with the same process, as it hugely depends on the structure of the business in question. However, there is a core that every organization can use to improve its scheduling. It contains:
- Creating a project scope. Project scope specifies what will be required for the project to be accepted, and what tasks it will involve. As a result, it can be used for resource forecasting - the base for the scheduling.
- Specifying the resources needed. Using a project scope, you can see what specialists are needed for given tasks, and how much time they need to complete the project. At this point, you can start checking whether you have the people you need for the project.
- Checking the availability of resources. Of course, not all of the people are going to be available when needed. Checking whether they are really at work when the project begins is essential for its success. Remember to keep in mind that holidays, time offs and other projects may also interfere with your plans; consult with other PMs when necessary.
- Creating draft plans. Before you settle for the final plan, try to prepare a tentative one to see if all the things come together as you intended. Such drafts will help you spot any schedule conflicts, whether in your own project, or in all projects at once.
- Confirm the allocations. If your draft plan shows no room to improve, confirm them with other stakeholders and release them to the employees it applies to. It is best to do that in a dedicated tool capable of showing allocations and notifying managers about mistakes they are about to make.
- Modify the plan when necessary. Of course, no schedule is perfect - in fact, usually something changes when it’s already live. Absences, delays and changes in requirements are PM’s daily bread. Therefore, be prepared to flexibly change your schedule on regular basis - for example, during weekly meetings. Remember to choose the right tools for that!
Use capacity planning
Availability of your resources is the key to avoiding schedule conflict.
Using the information on:
- time offs,
- public holidays,
- other allocations,
can help you calculate the exact amount of hours a given employee has left in his schedule. As a result, you can plan their work without overbooking or scheduling missing employees.
Importantly, there are some tools that make this process even easier. In Primetric, the system automatically calculates the number of their available hours. The information is then included in the specialist’s profile, just like shown below. The system also shows manager notifications whenever overbooking is about to happen.
Find the right tools to help you!
Of course, you do not have to do all that on your own. With the right tools, the entire process can be better, faster and more precise. Primetric is one of such tools!
In Primetric, you can:
- prepare estimates for the entire project and its stages,
- see the availability and capacity of specialists, as well as their skills,
- calculate the capacity using the data on time offs, absences and other allocations,
- report vacancies to the HR and manage them when necessary,
- create tentative, draft and active projects on different stages of the process,
- modify allocations by dragging, dropping or extending them in the calendar view,
- monitor the work with projects and general reports, and intervene when things.
Do you want to learn more about better planning?
Great - we have plenty of resources that can help you do that!
Feel free to visit our blog and read more about:
- creating a project timeline that will help you allocate resources,
- resource forecasting capable of showing you what specialists you will need in the future,
- best capacity planning tools you can use to improve the accuracy of your plans,
- resource management in Jira - yes, we know that you probably use that one!
- creating a perfect resource management plan, not only for your project, but also for your entire company,