Blog article:
3 things to consider before roster planning

Article written by Thomas Aagaard,
Head of Business Development at PDC.

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Business development manager of workforce management solutions


I have worked for 20 years implementing shift planning solutions in several larger companies. Among these, there is great variation in knowledge and readiness to the implementation of IT, which has such a far-reaching impact on the organizations. Which options are there? Which pitfalls are there?

In this article, I come up with three suggestions to what to consider when planning shifts.

Fixed basic template plan or dynamic plans?

Overall, you need to consider what starting point you want for the shift schedule. Are the plans to be based on the employees being employed on terms of delivering a certain number of hours per week? Then the planning is typically done with rolling out basic template plans  ensuring that agreements are fully utilized. Alternatively, you take as a starting point “what is to be produced” and thus decide how much need there is for staff and any qualifications.

The first starting point ensures that all employees deliver the time they are employed for without breaking rules and agreements. The second starting point optimizes the probability that there is exactly the number of manpower needed and thus the cost corresponds to the expected earnings.

The disadvantage of (fixed) template plans is that they do not consider variations in demand. Typically, you operate with the same staffing no matter what the demand is. In industries with variation in demand, there may be periods with over- or understaffing. This can be solved by pushing tasks from periods of much work to periods of overstaffing. This presupposes a flexible production that is not time-dependent and can withstand rotations.

The disadvantage of taking the demand as a starting point is that it requires a certain flexibility in the associated workforce. In some periods less work can be done and in other periods more work can be done. A solution to this may be to work with a permanent group, which constitutes a basic staff and in addition is supplemented with more loosely attached employees, who are used during periods when there is a need.

How to determine the staff demand?

It is a challenge to calculate the number of employees with the right qualifications required to solve the expected work. Experience helps translate tasks or expected production to the demands of staff and qualifications. Many companies work with an experienced permanent staffing and often it is a sensible method. However, it might become a “sleeping pillow” – possible efficiencies risk disappear in “this is how we usually do”. It might also result in unnecessarily large expenses if there is great variation in the demand during the day.

Another common method of determining staffing demands is through finances – setting a budget for how large the staff costs may be. It has two implications – i) either it becomes a retrospective process where the cost is only known once the plan is implemented and therefore decisions will be made on an outdated basis – or ii) it requires the planning program to calculate the cost of a future plan. If you have staff with agreements, it is almost impossible to do without IT support. With PDC Plan it is transparent to everyone how the shift plan matches the current budget.

Other companies operate in a world that is characterized by tight deadlines (e.g. ferry companies with fixed arrival and departure times). There are even companies with deadlines that change during the day (e.g. companies that service flights at an airport on arrival and departure despite delays). This type of business typically also requires different competencies in different locations and at fixed times. Therefore, it is important with an overview making sure all tasks are covered and performed as planned. Otherwise, there is a risk of delays with large costs as a result. Experience is rarely sufficient for this type of shift planning.

In these complicated situations, there is a great need for IT, which is able to translate production demands into crew demands. Care demands in the hospital sector are also an example of how patients are assessed for their “care demand”. Patients with high care needs are allocated more staff resources than patients with low care needs. In this way, one can put together an overall demand for staff in a ward.

Involvement of employees (in shift planning)

Several studies show that employees who feel involved in decisions are more responsible, loyal and trusting towards the company and the shift schedule they are presented with. Most people are more willing to take “bad” shifts if, on the other hand, they get their own wishes for shifts or time off met.

Giving employees the opportunity to swap shifts is a very valuable freedom that contributes to overall satisfaction and productivity. Shift changes must of course take place under orderly conditions so that working time rules are complied with, qualification requirements are met and without incurring additional costs for the company. This flexibility benefits both employee and employer but requires special features that are only found in advanced shift schedule systems such as PDC Plan.

One last way to involve employees is to create more transparency about which allowances are earned on which shifts. Wages are a sensitive issue for most people and ensuring that you get the right wages for your work is crucial for the trust between employees and employers.

Many employees are dependent on their basic salary being supplemented with various supplements for evening work, night, and weekends. Because these supplements form a significant part of their salary, transparency is important, so it is easy to keep track of whether the right supplements are attributed to a shift. In addition, it makes it possible to correct any errors in shifts and calculations before the payroll is run, which minimizes the follow-up work for the payroll employees.

Employees must be able to follow how they are remunerated – preferably so that it is possible to follow in the future (e.g. when the plan is published or if the plan changes) or retrospectively when the employee edits his shift.


I have now described three topics which I think are crucial for companies to consider when scheduling their employees. Shift planning has moved a lot in recent years because technology has provided new opportunities. PDC Plan is an IT system that for years has solved the complex task of ensuring good shift plans for all involved and within the given financial framework and legislation.

More than 200,000 people’s shift plans are prepared with PDC Plan, which contributes to our customers being able to deliver “quality on time”. 

Thomas Aagard,
Head of Business Development

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