Proactive Management: The Key to Effective Resource Scheduling

August 19, 2014  By Steven D. Buyze
Efficient utilization of the most valuable asset an MSP has — its expert engineers — has always challenged our industry, but at Systems Engineering, it’s getting easier.

Using business intelligence extracted from Autotask, we’ve been able to get in front of demand and proactively manage workloads to better match it. Weekly schedules have improved from +/- 20 hours of unbilled time to +/- 0 to 4 hours.

Here’s a brief summary of how we do it:

  1. We looked at historic demand and recognized that we have three types of work: regularly scheduled preventive maintenance, on-demand reactive-response and project work. We meet these demands by pulling from a single pool of engineers.
  2. The identified preventive-maintenance need is scheduled 120 days before the start of the schedule and is laid in for 12 months at a time,
  3. For reactive work we proactively reserve scheduling based on the estimated hours received from the historic demand data. We schedule this work 12 months in advance for network devices and three weeks in advance for end-user devices.
  4. Whatever time is left, we fill up with project work. By communicating to the sales team that this is the project availability, they can sell with a high level of confidence that we can deliver on what is promised.
This system is effective but not automatic. We monitor requirements and workloads regularly because even with a proactive scheduling model, things change. The key is to get ahead of that change and adjust resources accordingly.

We review preventive maintenance agreements on a monthly basis, and we look 120 days out to know how tight schedules are getting in general. Daily, we look three days ahead to make sure we have the right availability, and we look at yesterday to make sure everyone was utilized. We regularly communicate with the sales team about project hours available. We also track how often we have to pull engineers from projects, which is a measure of effectiveness. (In the last month, we did this only twice.)

We have used this system three years, and we continue to learn as we go. It’s getting easier every day. I don’t track technician utilization, but rather, broad availability. From a day-to-day perspective, everyone is working, and we have enough availability for customer demand with a lot less chaos.

When I proposed the idea, there was major concern that we would have too much availability. We decided to do a live test instead of conducting more research and putting off needed change. Within the first three months of the first phase we looked at the resources being reserved, and they were being underutilized, but the overall utilization was much higher than it had ever been, so we were able to move on to the next phase. At the end of the first year, the engineering teams started embracing the new system, and at the end of second year, the sales team began to see the benefits.
Steven D. Buyze
Customer Service Manager, Systems Engineering, PMP, CSL, KCS
Stephen Buyze has been managing engineering schedules for 30 years, most recently at Systems Engineering in Portland, ME. His proactive and innovative approaches in reactive environments have improved the bottom line, improved the customer experience and improved the work life of his co-workers. 
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