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Slow-Cooked Field Service Brisket

Yes, you heard correctly - understanding how to slow-cook beef brisket can help you get more benefits from your field service management operations and software. Give me five minutes to explain, and potentially make you hungry.

It’s no secret that a critical enabler of any leading field service business or operations is the field service management system or scheduling and dispatch tool. There is no shortage of options when it comes to field service management systems and regardless of the choice any business makes, there is one common and core feature they all must have. Gartner refer to it as Schedule Optimization, it’s also commonly called automated routing, ML/AI dispatch, optimized planning, real-time or intelligent or smart or optimised scheduling – for this article, I’m going to refer to it as Optimised Scheduling.

Regardless of what marketing has titled it, the objective of Optimised Scheduling is simple. Use an algorithm, machine learning and a set of configurable business rules to produce the most optimal outcome in the field that balances service, quality, and cost. Or if we convert that to brisket speak, a dark, crisp barked brisket that when cut open is deep red, juicy and almost falls apart.

Back to software speak - common benefits that all vendors tout, include reduced travel, increased output per field worker per day, improved customer experience, reduced cost in the field and the back office as well as a reduced carbon footprint.

In my experience, working with clients and their various solutions of choice, the realisation of these benefits is typically elusive. The reason for this is that realising these benefits has very little to do with the software and a lot of things must go right in the operations for the benefits to be reaped. Explaining this in a way that everyone can understand has been a challenge throughout my career.

So here goes.

I compare success in Optimised Scheduling to BBQing a slow-cooked Texan beef brisket. If you’ve ever had brisket or cooked it yourself, you’ll appreciate the patience, time, diligence and dedication that goes into it. Much like the patience, time, diligence and dedication that goes into creating an amazing day in field operations.

As I said earlier, when it comes to brisket, the desired end state is a dark, crisp barked brisket that when cut open is deep red, juicy and almost falls apart. When it comes to your field operations, what you are after is a highly optimised day for the majority of field teams, one where service, quality and cost are balanced with the need for minimal back-office intervention.

Keeping that in mind, there are five key elements of a Field Service Brisket:

Key Elements

Beef Brisket speak

Optimised Scheduling speak

First, the recipe

The list and quantities of each spice for the rub, the size of the cut of beef and the cooking times

The business rules, prioritization framework, optimised geographic areas, skills and appointment books

Second, the right quality ingredients

The right cut of brisket from a quality well-fed cow, natural and well-processed spices, and where appropriate, fresh herbs

Multi-skilled field teams, updated technician calendars, technicians aligned to multiple geographic areas, realistic task times and booked or even overbooked customer appointments

Third, the preparation

The spices must be mixed in just the right quantities, rubbed into every crevice of the cut of beef, then wrapped and let to rest to absorb the flavours

Updating the calendars with absences, adding in new repair work, moving field teams between geographic areas to meet demand, opening or closing appointment books

Forth, the BBQ or grill

Quality matters, a BBQ that can keep and hold its heat, one that is easy to stoke without disturbing the beef

A leading field service management tool that allows for Optimised Scheduling to consider multiple factors and react to in-day events

Fifth, the pitmaster

Someone who knows the recipe and all the ingredients, the beef, has done the preparation, knows how to use the BBQ and who knows that if “you’re lookin’ you ain’t cookin'”

Back-office teams that take a hands-off approach with dispatchers and supervisors who allow the system to act and react and only intervene or “lift the lid” when necessary to get the desired outcome

Now that you can see the similarities and are getting hungry, I’ll shift gears and discuss how you can apply this new understanding in your business.

Slow cooking requires planning, preparation and patience to get that amazing brisket at the end. The same is true for a Field Service Brisket enabled by Optimised Scheduling. Most clients that I have worked with focus on element four in the list above, the system. When in reality, the other four are far more important. Yes, a leading system is key, but all field service management systems rely on what is put into them, the data and configuration, and how the system is used by the ‘pitmaster’.

While for every business there are some things that differ, there is a lot that remains consistent when it comes to successful Optimised Scheduling. If your business is struggling with getting the benefits that you need from Optimised Scheduling, here are a few questions that you should answer:

  1. First, the recipe –

    1. Is your current recipe documented and/or limiting what the system could achieve?

    2. Is the prioritization framework being used too rigid?

    3. Are the geographic areas too small or big, are the borders hard or soft?

    4. Are the appointment books too small or big, are you overbooking or catering for the in-day workload?

    5. Are you preventing your system from doing what your dispatch team do every ay?

  2. Second, the ingredients –

    1. Are your teams multi-skilled in the system, or should they be?

    2. Do calendars reflect real availability?

    3. Are your teams' start and end locations accurately and positioned close to their area of work?

    4. Are task times reflective of how long tasks really take?

    5. Have appointments been booked with customers in advance?

    6. Have you booked enough work to keep the field teams busy?

  3. Third, the preparation –

    1. Are calendars updated with the latest absences?

    2. Is new maintenance, repair or installation work feeding into the system at the expected rates?

    3. Are teams being moved to meet demand on the day?

    4. Are appointment books closed to cap demand or left open to continue demand coming in?

While all of the above can be answered and then attained through diligent, continuing efforts over time. Number five is a lot harder. This requires a change in mindset. Ask the following about your business and your 'pitmasters':

  • Does your team take a hands-off or hands-on approach when using your system? Or in BBQ speak, are they “lookin and not cookin”?

  • Are the back-office teams skilled to be exception handlers and problem solvers or still dispatchers or administrators?

  • Have you redesigned the back-office roles or kept the same teams?

  • Are your teams still playing around with excel or google-sheets?

Just like slow-cooking brisket, a lot needs to go right and be taken care of in the right way for Optimised Scheduling to generate the benefits that field service businesses and operations must have. Focusing on one ingredient while neglecting others, going outside of the recipe or interfering with the BBQ too much will mean that the Field Service brisket will be spoiled and you and your customers won’t get the outcomes you collectively deserve and need.

Just like a pitmaster, your team needs to be taught the recipe and continually pay attention to it. They - along with your field teams, supervisors, resource planners and management - need a change in mindset to understand how to continually deliver the right ingredients. As the pitmaster, they must continually take the time to prepare properly and tend the BBQ while understanding, if they are looking they aren’t cooking.

Do your team know the recipe and ingredients, how to prepare and be the Field Service pitmaster? If not, then Optimised Scheduling won’t be delivering you the benefits that were promised.

If you want to learn more about how to get the most from your field operations and field service management software, get in touch.

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