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Product and Topic Expert
Product and Topic Expert
Hi all,

For those struggling with their shift plans, trying to figure out who wants to work, when they would like to work, which positions they are qualified for, etc. we now have a fantastic offering!!

Personally, I am always amazed that there are still so many organizations that rely on spreadsheet-based shift planning and are still doing this manually. It takes managers weeks to figure out how much customer traffic they had last year in this period, who can do the work this year, and when they are supposed to be available. When the manager finally has created the shift plan it is published on a central board. Then the employees come up, take a photo with their smartphone and then the real issues starts…the shift swapping…

This top down shift planning approach always results in a huge need for swapping because the lives of the employees are dynamic…they are not available all the time. In conclusion, this is a nightmare for all people involved.

After looking at SAP Workforce Forecasting and Scheduling by WorkForce Software my conclusion is that it is nothing less than pure magic. Really a gem in our portfolio because it can really solve a HUGE pain that so many planners, store managers, floor managers and many others live through…every week, month and year. This means that everyone has access to the schedule real-time anywhere, anytime.

So what does it do?

It all starts with the employee. The traditional top down shift planning approach has been questioned and re-engineered. The new bottom up planning makes SAP Workforce Forecasting and Scheduling fundamentally different.

Almost all employees have smart phones these days. With this simple solution, all they need to is download the app and logon. And then the fun starts.

But don’t worry if you have employees without a smart phone, because this solution was developed before the smart phone era there is also a browser application…;)

Let’s have a look at the solution..

On the landing page of the app, employees see their schedules and other offered shifts. You see that in the screenshot in the 2 tabs:

My schedule shows the shifts the employee is planned for, and for further out in the future, employees can look at all other available shifts so that they can pick and choose (of course when qualified, fatigue is right, and other rules and conditions are met).

In the screenshot above, you see a yellow ball icon on the 11th. Upon touching that row, it opens up the shift information for this employee. See the following image:

If the employee is fine with the proposal by the application they can simply hit ‘confirm’ and the shift is accepted.

To get a view of their great team for the day they can also check who else is working and which shift:

And if the employee would like to work but not on this shift it is also possible to look at potential other shifts on the 2nd tab.

This functionality is also really cool for employees to let the employer know when they want to work. Especially in retail, hospitality or leisure industries where there is a high dependency on when people would like to work.

For these use cases it is nice when the planning can work bottom up so that the planner can rely on the employees and software to do most of the work. It saves managers from having conversations via multiple channels (WhatsApp, SMS, e-mail, etc.) and administrating this to come up with a plan which is outdated the moment it is finalized.

So if you look at the screen above you see that it is very easy for employees to check when shifts are available and when they would like to offer their service. This can also be fine-tuned further by allowing employees to record their own availability and shift preferences as you see in the screen below:

A crucial aspect in the shift plan is also time off for the employee. Earlier in the first screenshot, you saw that vacation can also be worked into the schedule. This is particularly useful when you want to have only one place for your employees to go to for all Time Management related activities. See the following screen:

The absence records can be maintained in this solution or they can be loaded in from SAP Time and Attendance Management by WorkForce Software, Employee Central Time Off, SAP HCM, or many other sources. Even multiple sources in parallel.

All the bottom up input which has been described so far is taken into account when the application is proposing and optimizing the shift schedule.

So far no magic…

I hear what you’re thinking…very cool….but you promised me magic!

Let’s have a look at how simple the life of the planner (store manager, region manager, floor manager, etc.) has become because of all this input.

The planners use the desktop application for their planning. It offers role based access so they only see what they need to see. This means that for example, a retail customer store manager sees their store, a district manager sees a group of stores, and the executive responsible for all stores sees them all.

It all starts with a forecast provided by the application.

Before a planner starts creating their schedule, it is crucial to have an understanding of how busy the location is expected to be for that period (week / month / etc.). So there is a need for a forecast. The forecasting functionality in the application can load in historical data, such as customer traffic, card scans, payment data (cash, card and vouchers), hand held scanners, flat belt scanners, barcode issues, and tagged items. Pretty much all leading ‘output’ which is available in retail, hospitality and leisure industries.

This enables shift schedules based on historical data, enriched with future projections. The forecasts will even consider different types of week – promotions, public holidays etc. specific to that location.

Below you see the forecasting functionality:

You see that there are customer traffic numbers displayed. Based on that labor demand is forecasted.

Customer traffic is just one forecasting model that is part of the solution. The solution can forecast any kind of output that a business may use to determine how busy they are going to be. A few examples can be seen below:

These models are easily editable by the store manager. E.g. in case of an unforeseen change in circumstances – road closure, local events etc.:

This ensures that the workforce demand is based on credible data and not based on hunches of the store manager. When the forecast is in place the shifts are published and the employees can start to insert their availability in their app according to what I described earlier.


Apart from working on a forecast the manager also needs to ensure that there is a bullet proof shift schedule in place when the store opens. So let’s look at the scheduling part of the application.

On the screen below you see the landing page for the store manager. It shows what is relevant today for this person. E.g. the messages, which are relevant to the planning. This also allows the store manager to directly communicate back to employees. Communication can go via application push messages on the app, e-mail or SMS.

The store manager sees that a schedule for an upcoming week is below threshold in terms of quality. It has a 3 star rating and the threshold for shift schedules is 5 stars. The store manager needs to improve the shift plan for this week in their store.

As district manager you can also get an overview of all stores in your area of responsibility with e.g. 3 stars and below. This allows them to manage the quality of the schedules in their area. These district managers are actively informed and can potentially participate in the planning with their store managers.

When looking at the schedules in detail, the following screen opens first:

It shows a clean overview of all week shift schedules. For the week of December 4th you see that the schedule requires 35 employees and that there are 35 (qualified) employees confirmed. The planning also has a 5 star rating, so this means that the employees are scheduled for times when the stores expect to have their customer traffic (with no under or over staffing).

When clicking on the info icon next to the star rating a whole range of KPIs can be shown which come from the scheduling quality models which are part of the application. Here you see a couple.

By embedding these in the application there is no need for the store manager to look at separate reports to figure out if the schedule is according to expectations. This replaces many of the current different reports which store managers typically use.

Going back to planning for a minute. For the week of December 11th there is a 3 star rating and 0 out of 34 required employees are confirmed. This means: work to do. When clicking into the week the weekly view opens:

The store manager sees a lot of financial metrics just above the graphs. This is mainly related to employee cost information which comes from pay and overtime rules. These can be configured in the application to have all information present when the store manager makes their decisions. This means that they know exactly know what they will spend before they commit to the schedule.

Below the statistics you can see the shift schedule per day. The employees are represented in the purple bars and you see the demand in the green line. In a blink of an eye the store manager sees if supply meets expected demand for that day.

When zooming in to Sunday for example the graph is displayed in a larger screen for more accurate analysis:

It is clear that this shift plan is probably leading to overstaffing until 2pm and understaffing from then. Clearly this needs to be solved.

So let’s pull in the employee schedules. Employees can easily be scheduled with the slider functionality, which you see on the same line as the employee. The white spaces show the scheduled unpaid breaks which are automatically brought in.

As shown, the store manager can do the planning manually or (EVEN BETTER) use the Schedule Optimization functionality. This optimizer runs for max 30 seconds and will improve the shift schedule based on all conditions like employee input, forecasting models, qualifications for the employees, and all other things we have described earlier. See the following screenshot for a view into the optimization functionality.

By optimizing a schedule, the solution will run through millions of combinations and will come up with the best possible shift plan. It also displays a ‘Best Service Level’. This provides an indication of how good the schedule can be, given the conditions.

When the service levels of one store constantly remain low in comparison to other stores this insight can be great for senior management so that they can further improve conditions.

When the shift plan is ready (either manual or via the optimizer) the store managers can look into further detail at the employee level.

The store manager can simply use the drag and drop functionality to change shifts last minute. In red the time off per employee is displayed and at the bottom it also shows unassigned shifts:

These can be simply planned from the screen by clicking on them and appointing them to employees with open availability or offering them out via the mobile application as we saw earlier.

Ultimately this needs to lead to a perfectly matching workforce supply and demand with a high service level indication as shown in the screen below.

When all positions in the shift are filled, the shift plan can be published and all employees are notified via their mobile app that they are expected to work during the shift they signed up for.
Potential shift updates are only provided to employees who are involved in that shift. No need to use e-mail, WhatsApp groups, SMS and desktop applications to figure out when employees can work and who to potentially swap with.

The beauty about this process is that everyone is happy. Managers have their shifts filled without manual work and employees can work the shifts they indicated they wanted to work!

What do customers have to say?

At a recent conference, I talked to the project manager of a very large German retailer with around 200,000 employees in 2,000 locations in 25+ countries. For their shift plans they have used SAP Workforce Forecasting and Scheduling by WorkForce Software for over 20 years now. This means that they are a long time customer before the functionality was offered by SAP and even before it was offered by WorkForce Software.

They are advocating the solution highly. The mobile capabilities and the bottom up planning approach are especially very compelling for them. The ability to make every employee part of the scheduling process is crucial for the success of their shift plan. For their employees, this ensures that their work / life balance is right. All via a simple mobile app.

For the store managers, their lives have been improved because they spend more time in stores and less time planning. They have witnessed an improvement in communication (and therefore the relationship) between managers and their employees.

The biggest benefit is of course focused on the financial aspect. They are now better able to fill their shifts and with that improve the staff availability for customers. This leads to shorter waiting lines at the cash register, better service in the shop and a higher revenue at lower cost (because they hardly have over capacity in the stores now).

How long does it take to implement?

Within 2-3 months the solution can be implemented and ready for roll out. The implementation timeline is dependent on factors like the forecasting sophistication. Typically, the approach is to replicate an organization’s current scheduling processes first and improve on them with the added visibility, quality and employee engagement pieces. Then, iteratively introduce some of the more sophisticated forecasting elements to ensure adoption and user buy in.

When it is implemented the fun starts! Customers can start working with the optimization feature to analyze existing schedules and let the application optimize them. The training aspect is very important. Not so much for the employees because they will understand the app in no time. However, the planners (store managers, region managers, and everyone else who is involved in planning) need to be trained on how to publish the best schedule. The trick is to let the application work for you to create the shift plan. This means that store managers have to build up trust in order to let the application handle it for them. This is is a vital component of the change management during the roll out. In reality, the application will free up so much time for them, that it may take awhile for them to get a comfortable with it.

What sets this apart from the competition?

  • Accurate, Location and Business Calendar Specific Forecasting

  • Schedule Quality Visibility with Simple Five Star Rating

  • Manager Driven and Automated Optimization Capabilities

  • Collaborative Scheduling and Mobile Apps

  • Simple and Easy User Experience

What are the tangible benefits?

As for every IT decision, it all comes down to the business case. Since this functionality has been around for over 20 years a lot of customer input has been gathered which points out the value.

Let’s name a few:

  1. Due to the bottom up planning approach customers have reported up to an 85% reduction in staff turnover.

  2. Managers have up to 66% more time on their shop floor because they have less work to spend on creating shift plans

  3. Conversion rates (number of customers divided by the number of sale transactions) increased by up to 21%

  4. And now the biggest one of them all: Major labor savings! Of course, this highly depends on how advanced organizations currently are but anywhere between 3 to 20% in labor savings (including big reductions in overtime) as a result of the forecasting functionality is to be expected. And please do the math…3 to 20% for all store labor cost 😉

Check out this video for more info: And if you want to learn more about this functionality, or if you want to have help with the business case you are planning, then please let me know.

Best regards,

Frans Smolders