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Saving Management Time with Schedule Optimization

Updated: Apr 9, 2019

By Yunsheng Xiao

According to a recent survey of 500 US business owners, employers spend up to 12 hours per week on scheduling. Companies are facing complex scheduling decisions in the management/production process: airlines need to make schedules for aircrafts and crews; hospitals need to schedule shifts for nurses; and manufacturers need to schedule their production activities.

When we talk with project/utility managers, we explore the key aspects of making smart scheduling decisions. We learned that they are:

  • Identify available time

  • Meet essential goals

  • Schedule high-priority activities first

  • Schedule extra time for contingency

In each aspect above, technology can be helpful to them in making scheduling decisions more efficiently, especially when facing complicated situations. In a project we did for the project managers in a large company, we designed a tool that increases the resource utilization rate by 50% using Multi-objective Optimization.

What is optimization?

“The process of optimization is the process of obtaining the ‘best’, if it is possible to measure and change what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.[1] An optimization problem consists of maximizing or minimizing objective function(s), by systematically choosing input values from within an allowed set and computing the value of the function.

From a decision-making perspective, optimization helps people make the best decisions in order to achieve their goals under given constraints. For instance, when managers develop project scheduling scenarios, the project start dates become their decisions, the project deadlines become their constraints, and the goal(s) they want to achieve, including reduced cost or timely completion, become the objective(s) of the optimization problem.

[1] Antoniou, Andreas, and Wu-Sheng Lu. The Optimization Problem. Springer US 2007.

Using optimization technology, we help managers in all aspects of good scheduling decision-making:

  • Identify Available Time

Parameters such as project deadlines and employee available shifts, are set as constraints that can never be broken in the optimization problem. Every solution provided by the optimization toolkit will meet constraints perfectly and at all times.

  • Meet Essential Goals

If decisions are made about scheduling people/activities in the course of overseeing resources, managers need to make sure there are enough resources available to implement those activities. In this case, good utilization of facilities becomes the goal of the optimization problem.

  • Schedule High-Priority Activities

There are urgent activities that cannot be delayed or avoided. At the same time, there are also some other activities that can be scheduled later. In our optimization toolkit, we set different objective values for activities with different priorities so the optimizer converges to the scenarios which are prioritized as needed.

  • Schedule Extra Time for Contingency

We collect event timing data based on an anticipated duration of projects/activities/events. Then by importing the data into the constraints we set for the optimizing toolkit, we provide scenarios that leave time for managers to cope with contingencies.

  • Satisfy customized need of clients

We provided solutions for the customized need of clients such as automating the system; visual descriptive analysis; cost management reports; and database management solutions.

In one recent scheduling optimization project, we provided a module which was a combination of database, optimizer, automated interactive user interface, and customized report generator:

Figure 1: Optimization information flow

Here, one of the goals that project managers care about is the capacity of facilities. Over-occupancy was a frequent problem when they manually planned those projects in the past. Figure 2 shows the occupancy rate of facilities every week, and we can see we have many weeks where the occupancy rate exceeds 100%.

Figure 2: Occupancy rate before use of optimizer

After applying our solutions, Figure 3 shows that the over-occupancy problem has been solved significantly. The projects were assigned to ensure there would always be available spaces even at times of peak demand.

Figure 3: Occupancy rate after use of optimizer

The scheduling optimization solution we provide is flexible and user-friendly, available for businesses of all sizes, enables the user to embrace technology and moves beyond outdated tables and unreliable spreadsheets.