Plan it. Prove it. – A Vision for WFM

By Dan Rickwalder, Proactive Planning Group

“Plan it. Prove it.” I say those words to every client. To me, they define the role of WFM in the contact center. It is my vision of how WFM should work and what WFMers (that’s my term for workforce management professionals) should focus on every day. The WFM function sits in an uncomfortable position in most contact centers. We are often considered a necessary evil or at best an administrative support function. And even in centers that have a strong appreciation for the work, there is tension about how and why WFM processes are enacted. That is why building a vision for the WFM team is critical to their success. It provides the team with clear direction around every decision they make and helps them explain the “whys” of WFM to the rest of the organization.

The “Plan it. Prove it.” concept evolved over many years of trying to explain WFM to executive teams. “Plan it. Prove it.” revolves around a simple concept — that the WFM process does not run the daily operation of a call center. It assumes that WFM can only create a plan for the management team to implement and then tell everyone how they did. In a world of “elevator pitches” and PowerPoint slides, “Plan it. Prove it.” is a quick and easy way to describe what we do.

Plan It

Planning is a no brainer for us WFMers. But what and how we plan is the focus of the “Plan it.” part of my vision. The goal of “Plan it.” is hitting service level, but this vision takes it farther. We don’t just want to meet the goal at the end of the month or the week or even the day. The focus of “Plan it. Prove it.” is service consistency — meeting service level in as many intervals as we can every single day. When contact centers focus on monthly or even daily goals, they all fall into the same trap: making up for missed performance. They end up overstaffing to make up for understaffing in another part of the day. This drives inconsistency for customers and employees and costs the business money. To accomplish this, we focus on the four keys to hitting service level:

  1. Getting call volume forecasts right in every interval
  2. Forecasting handle time with as much precision as we do calls — as the other half of the workload equation it is just as important
  3. Getting the staff in place in advance by making sure budgets, hiring, and scheduling are aligned
  4. Managing adherence to ensure agents are where they are supposed to be

While we have direct control over volume forecasts, almost everything else we do is influenced strongly by the operations team. Handle time is affected by coaching. And budgets must be approved and hiring plans signed off on. So simply building a great plan is not enough. While we must become expert at headcount management and all the other aspects of our processes and tools in order to build the best plans, we must become influencers as well. And that is where “Prove it.” comes into play.

Prove It

There is a lot of data in contact centers. It’s a complaint we hear over and over again. “Give us information, not just data” is something I hear during every management team interview. “Prove it.” strives to do that through focusing on creating easy-to-understand visuals, and connecting the data across all aspects of the center to ensure that the story we tell is consistent and compelling.

To “Prove it.” we will move from displaying pure numbers to presenting images and becoming expert at clearly and concisely communicating our plans and performance. Don’t worry, numbers aren’t going anywhere….they will always have a place in contact centers. However we need to recognize when too much is, in fact, too much. We know our audience is generally not made up of “numbers people.” They like simple and concise and easy to understand. Ultimately, our plans and rdeports must meet this need and convey complex information in an easily digestible format that have the data accessible behind them.

We must also connect the data across our planning process. As contact centers become more complex, so does their data and we must adapt to them.

Very few centers have the luxury of single skill management anymore. Calls are shared among virtual queues, mixed with chats and emails, and spread across multiple centers. Many WFM vendors have added this functionality, but we still have to make sure that hiring plans, budgets, performance reports and even rewards and recognition take this complexity into account. I think of this as “counting it as you plan it.” In other words my forecasts have to line up with my budgets, long term plans, WFM system, telephony system, performance reporting, and incentives. Otherwise we have goals that are out of synch with our budgets, rewards that drive bad staffing decisions, and results that don’t explain why a plan succeeded or failed.

There is nothing magic about “Plan it. Prove it.” It is just my way of explaining our complex processes to the leaders who we need to influence. Defining your own vision, mission, and goals sets your WFM team up for success by giving them something to work toward. It also guides decisions by letting them ask questions like,”Does this change support making it easier to plan or demonstrate results?” And finally, it allows you to quickly and easily communicate what your WFM team works towards every day.

Dan Rickwalder has been mucking around with spreadsheets for over 15 years now. He is the owner of the Proactive Planning Group, where he helps contact centers of all sizes get the most out of their WFM teams. He also a frequent speaker at conferences and has a WFM focused blog at http://wordsofwfm.blogspot.com. You can reach him at danr@proactiveplanning.net.