There tends to be a gap between how we harness our theoretical versus practical knowledge in our business. We’ve heard it, and even said it ourselves: “That sounds great in theory, but how does it work in practice?”

I was reminded of this point last week at Axsium’s WFM Forum during a presentation on optimized scheduling. Workforce management experts and software vendors agree that an optimized schedule is one that most effectively balances labor supply with customer demand. In theory this sounds nice, but it’s often challenging to determine whether or not your business has achieved it.

In his presentation, Mike Scizak, Director of Corporate Retail Operations Support and Labor at Albertsons, provided a more practical definition: “An optimized schedule is one in which it takes the same amount of time to perform a transaction (or any piece of work) regardless of volume.”

This definition of what an optimized schedule looks like is notable for number of reason. First, it’s easy to understand. Most WFM systems rely on abstract metrics like “Schedule Effectiveness Rating,” “Schedule Efficiency Score” and “Coverage Percentage” to help explain if a schedule is optimized. The problem is most users fail to grasp the meaning of these metrics. Mike’s definition on the other hand is far more feasible and can easily be understood and applied.

Next, it’s easy to use. Is your schedule optimized? To find the answer, simply multiply the amount of time it takes to perform a task by the expected volume. The result is the optimal amount of time needed to complete the work. By comparing the amount of time required to the amount of time scheduled, you can quickly assess if you are overstaffed or understaffed. Do you want to see how effective your schedule was? Divide actual results by the number of hours worked. The findings tell you how long it took your staff to perform a task which can be compared to the expected time – your labor standard – to measure how well optimized the schedule was and the productivity of your workforce.

Finally, it can be used anywhere, any time. For example, a manager can observe his workers performing a task and with some simple math, he or she can figure out if they are overstaffed or understaffed and adjust accordingly.

Of course, the key to the practical definition of an optimized schedule is knowing how long it takes to perform a task. In other words, the practical definition is based on labor standards. (Not sure what a labor standard is. Check out my blog post that answers that very question.) Successfully incorporating this definition into your business requires that you have accurate, up-to-date labor standards your corporate employees, field managers and front-line employees can understand.