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Cycle Planning and Forecasting

Creating a Forecasting Governance Model

Operating a dynamic and reactive workforce management team requires strong processes and procedures understood by the whole team. A common best practice is to define cycles by which reforecasting occurs to maintain the accuracy of the forecast and so the operation is able to adapt to any changes to volume that may occur.

One of the most common best practices of successful WFM organizations is around governance and procedures for re-visiting the forecast. Due to the dynamic nature of contact centers, WFM teams need to be flexible in their ability to respond. Capacity planning is typically twelve months in advance, as it takes into account budgetary planning and seasonal considerations.

However, to keep the forecast relevant it is necessary to revisit that forecast, but at what intervals? A common approach is to utilize the ‘3-2’1’ approach.

In simplest terms, this means constantly revisiting the forecast and capacity plan at set stages on a rolling pattern of 3 months out, 2 months out and 1 month out. Often this goes further to 3 weeks out, 2 weeks out and 1 week out. In some very complex and reactionary centers, it goes further to 3 days out, 2 days out and one day out.

What occurs during these recuts of the forecast is analysis of what has happened to date and how it will influence the future, with the annual forecast as a guide. The first level of recut is done on a quarterly basis so the operations is able to plan for the upcoming three months. With the information from the annual capacity plan guiding the seasonality considerations, the WFM team is able to add in any additional historical information from the previous three months to adjust for actual volumes in comparison to forecast. These adjustments would then be reflected in the forecast for the upcoming quarter and given in monthly increments of 3 months out, 2 months out and the next month.

A similar piece of work occurs within the operational month. In the first week of the month, the WFM team would take historical data from the previous month and apply it to the weekly forecast within the month in the same ‘3-2-1’ pattern, making adjustments as required. In this manner, the forecast is current and relevant to the actuals that each center is experience.

The next question is around timing. Each operation has business needs to meet, and stakeholders to consider. The annual forecast is part of the budgetary process of any call center and typically takes place two three months in advance of the upcoming year. Quarterly ‘3-2-1’ reforecasting should start one and half months prior to the start of the new quarter. Monthly ‘3-2-1’ reforecasting should be started halfway through the current month. This is in an optimal situation; however, operations and the WFM team need still have many additional moving pieces to consider.

Some of the additional items to consider when setting up any reforecasting governance process are:

Timing for agent schedules

  • How flexible are the agent’s schedules
  • How far in advance can changes be made, or how short

Does the operation have the ability to shift calls to additional resources

  • How are part-time agents utilized
  • Are vendor’s an option and what advanced notice is required to volume changes

When developing a reforecasting plan, call centers need to keep in mind not only how and when they are going to reforecast, but also what they are going to do with the reforecast and how it will impact the operations as a whole.

As a best practice, developing a governance process around forecasting, reforecasting and cycle forecasting it is important to include all stakeholders so they are aware of timing. As an example, the marketing team is a key stakeholder for a forecasting cycle. The marketing team needs to know when they should be submitting major plans that may influence volumes in time for the reforecast so the WFM team is prepared. A strong governance process and regular meetings will help establish those timings for stakeholders to the call center and ensure successful campaigns.

The business question that needs answering whenever a center is developing a reforecasting governance approach is how we make the forecast more accurate. Bringing in stakeholders to the conversation will ensure that controllable variables are accounted for in the forecast. Most call centers have many variables outside of their control, it is important to ensure that controllable variables are accounted for and mitigated as part of any governance process.

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